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Looking ahead at future Hall of Fame classes

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The seven members of the 2014 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame have received their busts in Canton, Ohio, and now that enshrinement weekend is behind us, let’s look ahead at the players, coaches and contributors who could comprise the next five Hall of Fame classes.

2015

Junior Seau will be eligible for the first time next year, and he’s the one man who looks like a lock for the class of 2015. Seau’s enshrinement will bring up stories about his suicide and questions about whether brain damage on the football field could have led to his depression, but his enshrinement should also be a celebration of one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game.

Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner, may be the biggest beneficiary of the Hall of Fame’s new policy of voting on contributors separately from players and coaches. In past Hall of Fame votes, Tagliabue has lost out, but now that he’s no longer competing with players and coaches, there’s a good chance that he’ll be enshrined next year.

Steve Sabol would also be a good choice in 2015, when there will be two Hall of Fame finalists from the separate contributors category. Sabol’s father Ed is already in the Hall of Fame, but both Sabols deserve busts in Canton for building NFL Films.

Kurt Warner is, after Seau, the player with the best chance of being enshrined in his first year of eligibility next year. Some may say Warner’s greatness was too short-lived to merit Hall of Fame induction, but a player with two regular-season MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP award is probably going to end up in Canton.

Orlando Pace protected Warner’s blind side in St. Louis and was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL for a decade, and he’ll also be eligible for the first time next year.

Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were the top two receivers on the Greatest Show on Turf, and they both retired after the 2009 season, making them eligible in 2015. (You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten that Holt was in Jacksonville and Bruce was in San Francisco in 2009.) It would really be something if they were both inducted along with Warner and Pace. That, however, is awfully unlikely. Wide receivers have had a hard time getting into Canton in recent years, and Holt and Bruce may end up competing against each other and therefore hurting each other’s chances in much the same way that Steelers greats John Stallworth and Lynn Swann did for many years.

Jerry Kramer, the great Packers offensive lineman, would be a strong choice as a senior candidate. Next year will be a harder year for seniors to get in, as only one senior finalist will be nominated. But Kramer may be the most deserving senior candidate eligible.

2016

Brett Favre is a sure thing to be inducted in 2016, and the Packers have already begun the process of turning the year before his induction into a long ceremony honoring Favre, who will have his number retired in 2015.

Terrell Owens also becomes eligible in 2016, but he’s a long shot. Owens is second only to Jerry Rice on the all-time receiving yards list and third behind Rice and Randy Moss in receiving touchdowns, but Owens acted like such a jerk, so often, that he’s remembered as much for becoming a disruptive force in the locker room as he is for being a dominant force on the field.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former 49ers owner, may benefit from the new contributors category and be enshrined soon. The question is whether Hall of Fame voters will reward DeBartolo for his role in building the great 49ers teams of the 1980s and 1990s, and overlook the circumstances that led DeBartolo to be forced out of the NFL.

Jerome Bettis may finally get his bust in Canton in 2016, as a relatively weak crop of first-year eligible players will make room for those who have previously been passed over.

Will Shields, the great guard for the Chiefs, would also seem likely to benefit from a lack of first-year eligible players, although there have been so many great offensive linemen enshrined in Canton in recent years that it’s hard for any one to gain recognition over all the others.

Marvin Harrison was voted down this year, but he had so many great seasons as a receiver for the Colts that it seems like just a matter of time before he gets in, and 2016 may be the year.

Randy Gradishar and Ken Stabler are a couple of good senior candidates who may be enshrined in 2016, when two seniors will be eligible. (Only one senior is eligible in 2015, 2017 and 2019.)

2017

LaDainian Tomlinson becomes eligible for the first time in 2017, and with 13,684 career rushing yards, Tomlinson looks like a good bet to make it. Only four players have more yards than Tomlinson (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin) and all four are already in the Hall.

Jason Taylor becomes eligible in 2017 as well, and he has a good case, although he may be joining a crowded field of pass rushers, as we’ll detail momentarily.

Kevin Greene was voted down as a Hall of Fame finalist last year, but with 160 sacks in his career, he seems sure to get in eventually: The only players with more career sacks than Greene were Bruce Smith and Reggie White, two of the greatest players in NFL history. The 2017 class may be the one that finally makes room for Greene.

Charles Haley also might finally get his Hall call in 2017. He’s been voted down five times already, but his contributions to Super Bowl winners in both San Francisco and Dallas should be enough to earn him a bust at some point.

Hines Ward was a great wide receiver and a Super Bowl MVP winner, and he’ll be eligible for the first time in 2017. But Ward’s career numbers (1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns) are dwarfed by those of some other recent receivers, and Ward may suffer by comparison.

Brian Dawkins was a nine-time Pro Bowl safety who also becomes eligible in 2017, but he seems unlikely to be selected in his first year of eligibility. Dawkins was a beloved player both on and off the field, and at some point the voters may put him in Canton, but that point probably won’t be until he’s on the ballot for at least a few years.

George Young, the former Giants general manager, is just the kind of person that the new “contributors” category is designed to recognize, and the 2017 class may be the year that the late Young gets his due.

Don Coryell would appear to be a likely choice as a senior candidate some day, and 2017 may be when that day comes. Coryell never won a championship as a coach, but he was such an innovator of the passing game that he’s a significant figure in the history of football.

2018

Ray Lewis will be an easy choice as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. There’s no room for debate on that.

Randy Moss may leave some room for debate, as his numbers are comparable to those of Terrell Owens, who looks like a long shot. But Moss at his best was such a game-changer that he just feels like exactly the kind of player who belongs in Canton.

Brian Urlacher, who like Lewis and Moss becomes eligible in 2018, has a very good case for enshrinement as well. Although he’ll suffer in comparison to Lewis, there will probably be enough support for Urlacher to get him enshrined in his first year of eligibility.

Steve Hutchinson was a great guard and also becomes eligible in 2018, but he won’t get in on his first year of eligibility. Hutchinson may be a finalist many times, but getting the necessary 80 percent of the vote will be tough.

Tim Brown is a longtime finalist who feels like he accomplished enough in the NFL (usually while serving as the only decent threat in his teams’ passing games) that he should be recognized eventually. The 2018 class may be the year.

Art Modell has been voted down several times, and the opposition to his candidacy is strong from some who say that taking the Browns out of Cleveland was an unforgivable sin. But the new contributors category gives Modell a much better chance, and 2018 could be his year.

Bob Kuechenberg and Cliff Harris are among the best senior candidates who haven’t been selected yet.

2019

Tony Gonzalez becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he’s just about a sure thing as one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game.

Ed Reed also becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he also looks like a sure thing as one of the greatest safeties ever to play the game.

Tony Dungy was voted down in his first year of eligibility last year and may be voted down a few more times, but he’s likely to get in eventually, and 2019 could be the year.

Morten Andersen was also voted down this year in his first year as a Hall of Fame finalist, but he also has a good case to make it eventually. Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leader in points scored, would join Jan Stenerud and Ray Guy as the only kicking specialists in the Hall of Fame.

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Titans restructure contract of tight end Craig Stevens

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The Tennessee Titans and tight end Craig Stevens have agreed to a restructured contract for the 2015 season.

According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, Stevens agreed to re-do the final year of his deal that was set to be worth $3.5 million.

The new deal will drop his salary closer to the $1.6 million he made with the team in 2014. Without a new deal, Stevens could have become a salary cap casualty.

Stevens has spent seven seasons with the Titans. He appeared in just five games last season before a thigh injury sent him to injured reserve and ended his season.

Stevens has appeared in 93 games with 48 catches for 603 yards and four touchdowns for Tennessee.

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Carson stadium would generate millions of dollars, create thousands of jobs

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The teams that hope to build an NFL stadium in Carson, California have commissioned an economic impact analysis of the project.  As expected, it would generate plenty of money — and plenty of jobs.

The Los Angeles County Development Corporation estimates that a venue shared by the Chargers and Raiders would create more than 16,000 jobs for the construction, and more than 13,000 jobs for all ongoing stadium-related activity.

The study also estimates that construction would generate $1.1 billion in local labor income and $118 million in state and local taxes.  The study estimates that, with two teams playing there, the stadium would generate $609 million per year in local labor income, and $60 million in state and local taxes.

The numbers aren’t surprising; the NFL has become a gigantic business operation, and a two-team stadium undoubtedly would churn out the cash.  The simple reality is that the proposed stadium in Inglewood, California likely would have a similar impact, if two NFL teams play there.

And so the question remains which stadium can win the race to get the appropriate clearances to break ground?  While the economic impact study doesn’t answer that question, it makes it even more clear that a return to L.A. by the NFL is closer than it’s ever been.

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Eddie LeBaron dies at 85

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Quarterback Eddie LeBaron, who made it to the NFL despite a five-foot, seven-inch, and 160-pound frame, died Wednesday at the age of 85, according to the Sacramento Bee.

A tenth-round pick in 1950, LeBaron played for Washington in 1952 and 1953, and from 1955 through 1959.  He went to Canada in 1954, and he finished his career with the Cowboys from 1960 through 1963.

Between being drafted and debuting in the NFL, LeBaron earned a Bronze Star in the Korean War.  He also was wounded twice in battle.

A member of the Washington Ring of Fame, LeBaron made it to three Pro Bowls in D.C., and another in Dallas.   He was the league’s rookie of the year in 1952.

After his playing career, LeBaron worked as a broadcaster with CBS.  He later became the G.M. of the Atlanta Falcons, and later and executive vice president with the franchise.  He was named the NFL’s executive of the year in 1980.

LeBaron also worked as a lawyer, obtaining his law degree in 1959.

He’s survived by his wife, Doralee.  Married 61 years, they have three sons and five grandchildren.

We extend our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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Top tight end Maxx Williams won’t attend the draft

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The top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, have both said they don’t plan to attend the festivities in Chicago. Now the top tight end is opting out as well.

Maxx Williams, regarded by many as the best tight end in the 2015 draft class, told KARE 11 that he intends to spend the weekend with his family instead of going to the draft.

Not every top prospect is skipping the event. West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White, a likely Top 10 pick, confirmed that he will be there. But in recent years, all the top picks have been there in person. That won’t be the case this year.

Officially, the NFL says each player can decide for himself whether to attend the draft. But the league might quietly ask players who say they’re not going to reconsider. The draft is the NFL’s biggest offseason event, and the league wants to use it to market its new stars. That’s harder to do when those new stars choose to stay home.

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Steve Bisciotti possibly commits tampering by saying Haloti Ngata could return in 2016

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Nose tackle Haloti Ngata spent nine seasons playing for the Baltimore Ravens and owner Steve Bisciotti said Wednesday that he doesn’t rule out the possibility of Ngata returning to Baltimore in 2016.

However, there’s a problem with that statement because Ngata is now a member of the Detroit Lions.

Bisciotti commenting on having interest in another team’s player is the definition of tampering.

The Lions elected not to pursue tampering charges against the Miami Dolphins for their pursuit of Ndamukong Suh at the start of free agency and they may elect not to pursue it again in this instance. It is a difficult matter to police anyway.

But Bisciotti surely appears to have committed tampering in this instance. He can certainly have a desire to reunite with Ngata in the future. He just can’t express that thought publicly with Ngata in a Lions uniform.

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Bisciotti: Ravens working on extension with Marshal Yanda

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Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said Wednesday the team is currently working on a contract extension for guard Marshal Yanda.

Yanda has been one of the best guards in the leagues over the last few seasons. He was made the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons and was name a first-team All-Pro for the first time in 2014.

Yanda is about to enter the final year of his contract with the Ravens with $5.5 million due in base salary.

Yanda has started 78 of a possible 80 games for the Ravens over the past five seasons. Yanda even started the final three games of the regular season and Baltimore’s playoff victory over Cincinnati at right tackle.

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Fourth defendant pleads guilty in Sean Taylor murder case

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The fourth of five defendants charged in the 2007 murder of Sean Taylor has pleaded guilty.

Charles Wardlow entered his guilty plea in a courtroom in Miami today and was immediately sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Four down, one to go,” Taylor’s father, Pedro Taylor, told the Miami Herald after the sentencing.

Eric Rivera, who pulled the trigger on the shot that fatally wounded Taylor, was convicted last year. Rivera, who was 17 at the time he killed Taylor, was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Jason Mitchell, whom prosecutors say organized the planned burglary of Taylor’s home, was also convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison. Venjah Hunte pleaded guilty years ago and agreed to testify against the others. He got 29 years in prison.

The fifth defendant, Timmy Brown, is still awaiting trial.

Taylor was a star player for the Miami Hurricanes and Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2004, becoming a Pro Bowl safety in his third season. Today would have been Taylor’s 32nd birthday.

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Vikings sign Mike Kafka, Caesar Rayford

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The Minnesota Vikings have signed quarterback Mike Kafka and defensive end Caesar Rayford.

Kafka’s agent, Mike McCartney, announced his signing with Minnesota while Rayford made his own announcement via his facebook page.

Both players took part in the NFL veteran combine in Arizona.

Kafka spent the 2014 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the third-string quarterback behind Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. Kafka has not appeared in a regular season game since 2011 when he played sparingly in four games for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Rayford was traded from Indianapolis to Dallas in 2013 after a standout preseason with the Colts. Rayford appeared in seven games for the Cowboys and recorded five tackles. He spent the 2014 split between playing in the CFL and the Arena League.

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Seahawks re-sign Will Tukuafu, Jesse Williams

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The Seattle Seahawks re-signed fullback Will Tukuafu and defensive tackle Jesse Williams on Wednesday.

Tukuafu was an unrestricted free agent following last season while Williams had been released in a salary related move in March.

Tukuafu was signed by Seattle during the season after Derrick Coleman broke a bone in his foot in pre-game warmups in St. Louis in October. He appeared in nine games for Seattle while playing both fullback and some defensive tackle as well.

Williams was a fifth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2013 but has missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries. Williams has only appeared in two preseason games in his two years with the team.

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Bengals unveil April Fool’s gag that takes shot at Browns

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Sam Wyche probably got a kick out of this one.

On April Fool’s Day, the Cincinnati Bengals introduced a new logo and helmet. And the new logo and helmet are no different than the old logo.

Making the non-change change even more brilliant is the strong likelihood that the Bengals were taking a shot at the Browns, who recently pulled the sheet off a new helmet and logo that looked not much different than their prior helmet and logo.

So well played, Bengals. Well played.

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Dwight Lowery visited with Colts

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The Colts re-signed safety Mike Adams, but they’re still in the market for more help at the position and had a veteran option in for a visit.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that veteran safety Dwight Lowery met with the team. Lowery played for the Falcons last year, but should be familiar to several members of the Colts organization after playing for the Jets and Jaguars during the first six years of his career.

Lowery made 15 starts while playing in every game for the Falcons last season and finished the year with 79 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack. He was also a starter during his three years with Jacksonville, although injuries limited him to 12 games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

With Adams back in the fold, Lowery would likely compete to take over next to him with LaRon Landry and Sergio Brown both moving on from Indianapolis.

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Jamari Lattimore signs with Jets

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The Jets have added another player to their linebacking corps.

They announced the signing of former Packer Jamari Lattimore on Wednesday. Lattimore visited with the team last month.

Lattimore made the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent the last four years playing mostly on special teams and as a reserve in Green Bay. He did make five starts at inside linebacker last season, although the Jets will likely keep him as a depth option as long as David Harris and Demario Davis, their starters on the inside, are healthy.

Lattimore is the third Packers inside linebacker from last season to wind up with a new team this offseason. A.J. Hawk signed with the Bengals and Brad Jones landed in Philly after getting released by Green Bay.

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Bears re-sign CB Sherrick McManis

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The Bears have retained a backup defensive back and key special-teamer, reaching a one-year deal with cornerback Sherrick McManis, the club announced Wednesday.

The 27-year-old McManis appeared in 12 games as a Bears reserve in 2014, with the club crediting him with 13 special teams tackles. A Northwestern product, McManis has played in 39 games the last three seasons for Chicago after two seasons with Houston (2010-2011).

McManis’ ticket onto the roster figures to be tied to his versatility and experience. He could project as the Bears’ fourth or fifth cornerback and a core kicking game player.

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Stefen Wisniewski’s latest free agent visit with Patriots this week

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The Patriots became leverage for Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain to get a better deal at home, but they won’t have to worry about that with their latest visitor.

According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the Patriots hosted Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski on a visit this week.

Wisniewski is coming off shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, but has still drawn considerable interest. He’s had visits with the Seahawks, Buccaneers and Bears already, with others checking in.

The Raiders don’t need him after signing former Chiefs center Rodney Hudson to a big money deal, but plenty of others could use him and realize an upgrade (assuming he’s healthy).

While the number of visits and his injury history indicates he’s not yet ready to sign, the Patriots clearly think he could help.

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Texans sign Nate Washington

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The Texans have added another veteran wideout to the group of players vying for playing time alongside DeAndre Hopkins in their 2015 lineup.

The team announced Wednesday that they’ve agreed to a deal with former Titans wide receiver Nate Washington. Houston has also signed ex-Jaguar Cecil Shorts this offseason while losing Andre Johnson to the Colts in their game of AFC South receiver roulette.

Washington spent six seasons with the Titans, culminating with 40 catches for 647 yards and two touchdowns while making 11 starts for the team in 2014. Those numbers are in line with his usual production in Tennessee, outside of the 74-catch, 1,023-yard season in 2011 that stands as Washington’s most productive NFL season.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that it is a one-year deal worth $1 million with $30,000 in guaranteed money, which doesn’t leave the Texans with much reason to hold onto Washington should the 31-year-old look unable to help the team once they start on-field preparations for next season.

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