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Panthers settle on Byron Bell as their new left tackle

Byron Bell AP

The Panthers appear to have settled their most pressing preseason competition, and head coach Ron Rivera might have picked up a little French this summer.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Byron Bell has distanced himself from the competition, and made the left tackle job his own.

“He’s done such a good job. I’m going to say it; it’s a fait accompli,” Rivera said. “He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. I’m going to sit down and talk with the coaches and make sure we’re all set, confident and comfortable.”

Comfortable might be a relative term, since that position was manned by the rock steady Jordan Gross for the last decade. But as shaky as Bell looked on the right (where he started the last three years), he seems more comfortable himself on the left.

“He’s done some things on the left side that he didn’t do on the right side that have been impressive,” Rivera said. “But the biggest thing we keep forgetting is, he’s a natural left-hander.

“His punch is a lot better, and his first step is a little bit better. Again that’s because he’s working off his left side. Having seen that, I have confidence that he can do the job for us.”

Now all the Panthers have to do is find a right tackle. They began looking at converted defensive tackle Nate Chandler there, but he’s struggled with a knee problem and has looked mostly like a guard in his time there. They subbed in always injured Garry Williams there last week, and Williams might end up winning that job if Chandler can’t get well and improve.

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Report: Panthers will take a look at Whitner

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Veteran safety Donte Whitner is flying to Charlotte Friday and will work out for the Panthers, NFL Network reported.

Whitner, 31, was cut by the Browns in April after two seasons. He’s a veteran of 10 NFL seasons and a three-time Pro Bowler.

The Panthers already have one former Ohio State safety, Kurt Coleman, under contract but have mostly young players in their backup spots.

The Panthers have been dealing with injuries at safety throughout camp and the preseason, and it’s the time of year that players in Whitner’s position who don’t necessarily need training camp start finding homes, so at least taking a look at Whitner makes sense for the Panthers.

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Tomlinson puts more pressure on Bosa

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 03:  LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers prepares to take the field prior to the game against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card Game on January 3, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Getty Images

When last we heard from former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, he was calling out defensive end Joey Bosa for holding out while ignoring that Tomlinson himself once held out.

Tomlinson is now doing it again.

“Any football player who wants to be great, it doesn’t matter about the money,” Tomlinson told the Mark and Rich Show on XTRA 1360 in San Diego, using generalized words that could be used against anyone who ever holds out, including Tomlinson when he did. “It really doesn’t. Because if you ball out, you’re going to get paid no matter what. That’s the beautiful thing about playing this game and being a player. If you ball out, then you will get paid.”

So how can the holdout affect Tomlinson? I mean, Bosa?

“You can run the risk of alienating yourself from your teammates and also from the organization,” Tomlinson said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, the player could be scarred by this from the organization and not like the organization,’ it can be vice versa. The organization can feel like, ‘This guy will be a problem his whole entire career,’ so that could jeopardize what happens in three or four years when Joey comes up for a contract.”

Tomlinson’s rookie holdout didn’t keep him from getting a getting a big-money deal. And no team in its right mind would shun a talented, valued player on a second deal because of what should be a long-forgotten contract dispute on his first deal.

“I feel like he’s trying to figure all this out,” Tomlinson said of Bosa in 2016 (or of Tomlinson himself in 2001). “But at the end of the day he has to be the professional. This is his football life and he has to be the one to make sure that this goes the way he wants it to go, meaning his rookie year. Because that’s the only thing that’s important right now is him getting on the field and proving himself his rookie year and helping this team.”

In other words, Bosa and all holdouts (including Tomlinson in 2001) should cave.

The good news is that Tomlinson made an effort to distinguish his holdout from Bosa’s.

“When the money is guaranteed and you’re arguing about when you get paid,” Tomlinson said. “To me that’s where players start to question, ‘Man, does he really want to be on this team? Does he really want to play?'”

This statement shows that Tomlinson has little or no concept of the time value of money. If a $17 million signing bonus is earned now but a large piece of it is paid later, the player loses the chance to earn interest on the money already earned by the player but withheld — which allows the team to earn interest on the player’s money.

The overriding point continues to be that Tomlinson himself held out as a rookie, missing four weeks of camp and two preseason games. Also, while Tomlinson played for the Chargers, he didn’t call out Antonio Gates during his own 2005 holdout.

“He’s someone we need on the team, but business is business,” Tomlinson said in 2005. “He was hoping things got worked out. Hopefully things still get worked out. We obviously need him, but it is a business first and if Antonio is not here we are going to have to hold the fort down until he gets back.”

Tomlinson’s decision to attack Bosa given Tomlinson’s own holdout and Tomlinson’s failure to criticize Gates makes little sense. Applying Occam’s razor, this may simply be a case of Tomlinson saying what he thinks his current employers at NFL Media (which is owned by the league and partially owned by the Chargers) want him to say.

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Pagano holding Cromartie out of this weekend’s preseason game

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 08:  T.J. Yeldon #24 of the Jacksonville Jaguars is pushed out of bounds by Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets with Darrelle Revis #24 in pursuit during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 8, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

After signing veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie this week, Colts coach Chuck Pagano called Cromartie “a perfect fit” for the team’s depleted secondary.

Pagano is also perfectly fine with Cromartie having the same view of the preseason that he does.

Cromartie, 32, joined the Colts earlier this week following the news that cornerback Vontae Davis is out until at least October. Despite the fact that the Colts will play this weekend’s preseason game without at least three other injured cornerbacks, Cromartie won’t play.

“He knows exactly what to do, but I’m not going to throw him out there,” Pagano said, per the team’s official transcript. “He’s not had an offseason. He’s in great shape, he knows the plan, he knows the terminology. He picked that up, being in a similar system helped. He could play, but I’m not going to do it.”

Darius Butler and first-year player Tay Glover-Wright will likely start at cornerback Saturday vs. the Eagles. The Colts hope to have Patrick Robinson, an offseason free agent pickup, back from a groin injury and in the starting lineup for their Sept. 11 season opener.

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Browns VP: “We would be very disappointed if we have four wins”

St. Louis Rams v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Sure, the Browns offloaded Barkevious Mingo today. But in hanging onto Josh Gordon and Josh McCown for the moment, the Browns hope to prove they’re serious about winning.

As in, this year.

Seriously.

(Cue Donald Sutherland in Animal House: “I’m not joking, . . . this is my job“.)

Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said the accumulation of future draft picks should not stand as evidence they weren’t trying to compete this year, saying it was “silly” and “laughable” to think they were tanking.

“I think if anybody has been around our facility, they’d know how silly that is,” Brown said, via Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com. “We want to win. Our expectations are, just because we have a younger roster, doesn’t mean that we’re at all trying to lose, I guess.

“If that’s the perception, I would say that’s laughable and I think we’re all competitive guys. We understand that part of what we need to do is build a winning culture here, and everything that we’ve talked about and worked towards is aimed at winning and there are no seasons off or, for us even, reps off.”

“We would be very disappointed if we have four wins. That said, I think we’re not going to measure our success just in terms of wins. We’re realistic with where our roster is in terms of a proven roster that’s capable of winning.”

Of course, it’s easy to pick on Brown for saying such things, since the Browns have won more than five games in a season exactly once in the last eight years. And that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

It’s debatable that the presence of either of the Joshes will make a significant impact on breaking out of that skid. And they’re definitely not going to change things there without believing they can. But they’re just going to have to pardon the rest of us when we snicker when they say things like that.

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Ladarius Green holding out hope for Week One

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Ladarius Green (80) stands on the sideline during the first half of an NFL exhibition football game against the Detroit Lions in Pittsburgh, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) AP

Tight end Ladarius Green’s physical condition has been the subject of much discussion this summer, including a report that he’s still experiencing recurring headaches after suffering a pair of concussions last season.

That report led to talk that Green may not play for the Steelers at all after signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent this offseason. Green denied both the reports of the headaches and the possibility that he’s done as an NFL player, saying that his surgically repaired ankle is the only reason why he hasn’t been able to get on the field yet.

Green also said that he’s confident he’ll be able to play this season, but remains on Pittsburgh’s physically unable to perform list as they get ready for their third preseason game. On Thursday, Green told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that he’s still holding out hope that he’ll be able to play in the season opener despite his “very slow” recovery.

That may be a serious stretch given his lack of time on the field, but the Steelers can keep him on the PUP list into the regular season. That would cost him at least six weeks while keeping open the possibility that the team could get something from a player who was initially expected to play a big role in 2016.

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Patriots reinstate Alan Branch, ending his suspension

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Alan Branch #97 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

New England defensive tackle Alan Branch is welcome back with the team.

The Patriots suspended Branch a week ago, but Field Yates of ESPN reports that the Patriots have reinstated him.

It remains unclear why Branch was suspended. The Patriots never announced the suspension and it only came to light because Branch told teammates he was suspended.

Branch arrived in the NFL as the 33rd overall pick in the draft with the Cardinals in 2007. He has bounced around the league and had his share of off-field issues and was cut by the Bills in 2014 a day after he was arrested for DUI. But the Patriots liked him enough that last year they signed him to a two-year, $4.3 million contract. If he makes the Patriots’ 53-man roster he’ll have a $1.2 million base salary this season.

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The Lions made a call about Barkevious Mingo, allowing them to gloat

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

The Browns weren’t just able to chisel a fifth-round pick out of someone they might have cut anyway because they’re so shrewd.

There was actually interest in Barkevious Mingo from others as well.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Lions also placed a call before the Browns sent their 2013 first-rounder to the Patriots for something other than a ham sandwich.

Of course, the obvious link is that Lions General Manager Bob Quinn used to work for the Patriots, and likely shares much of their “buy low” mentality.

But the interesting postscript is that the Lions were looking to shore up a position which Quinn’s predecessor Martin Mayhew actually got right.

The Lions used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft on defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who has turned into the Pro Bowl pass-rusher they were looking for. In fact, Mayhew hit one of the few home runs of April 25, 2013, as that year’s draft was what we in the business like to refer to as “a really bad draft.”

With the first two picks, the Chiefs and Jaguars took not-really franchise left tackles Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Then came not-eligible-often-because-of-suspension Dion Jordan (Dolphins) and Lane Johnson (Eagles). That the Dolphins traded up to get Jordan is a whole other comedy routine.

Then Ansah — again, a really good pick by Martin Mayhew — was followed by Mingo (already traded by the Browns) and Jonathan Cooper (already traded by the Cardinals).

So the Lions at least made the effort to collect two of that year’s top 10 picks. Which is not something a lot of other teams would be interested in having.

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Adrian Peterson won’t play in preseason

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 18:  Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings warms up prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 18, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner doesn’t see any signs that running back Adrian Peterson is slowing down with age, but we’ll have to wait until the regular season to find out for sure.

At one point this offseason, Peterson said that he thought he might break from recent years and play in a preseason game. Coach Mike Zimmer said this month that he’d discuss it with Peterson and that the decision would ultimately be up to the running back.

Peterson didn’t play in the first two games and with the fourth game usually reserved for players further down the roster, it would likely be this Sunday or not at all. Peterson revealed his answer on Thursday.

“I just really thought about it and didn’t feel like it was the best thing in my interest, knowing that I can be ready for the first week against Tennessee, like I’ve done a thousand times in the past,” Peterson said, via the Pioneer Press. “That’s pretty much what it came down to.”

The Vikings will be in Tennessee on September 11 and they’ll play their first regular season game at the new U.S. Bank Stadium against the Packers the next week.

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Tom Coughlin reportedly joining NFL Competition Committee

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants looks on against the Washington Redskins at FedExField Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Giants coach Tom Coughlin is reportedly adding to his duties with the league.

Coughlin became a “senior advisor” to the league’s operations department this offseason, a role that has him working with NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent as well as the league’s game-related committees. One of those committees is the Competition Committee, which works on changes to the rules of the game.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Coughlin will be doing more than working with the committee in the future. Per Schefter, Coughlin has been added to the committee, which also includes his former boss John Mara, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and others.

There’s no word on if the committee’s meetings will now be starting five minutes ahead of schedule.

Coughlin is the third reported addition to the committee, joining Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Broncos General Manager John Elway. Arians said Wednesday that he wouldn’t comment on the report because nothing has “been announced yet.”

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Browns keep adding to pile of 2017 draft picks

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2016, file photo, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown addresses the media during a news conference in Berea, Ohio. The Browns are not in any rush to make a decision on quarterback Johnny Manziel’s future. Sashi Brown, the team’s newly appointed vice president of football operations, said Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016,  the team is “not in any panic to make any decision one way or another on him.”  (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File) AP

The 2017 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a three-day Cleveland Browns infomercial.

Yes, there will be a Trent Richardson/Johnny Manziel montage. But the Browns are in line to be making plenty of picks as they try to move forward.

The Browns added another pick in Thursday’s Barkevious Mingo trade, a fifth-rounder from the Patriots. That means the Browns have acquired four additional picks in the 2017 draft: A first-rounder from the Eagles via the Carson Wentz trade from last April, a second-rounder from the Titans via a 2016 draft-day trade, the fifth from the Patriots acquired Thursday and the Colts’ seventh-round pick.

The Browns figure to be in line for compensatory picks, too. Per Field Yates of ESPN, the Browns are in line to be awarded compensatory picks in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Those picks are generally announced about a month before the draft.

It’s clear the Browns are going to be busy. We don’t yet know whether they’ll be devoting one of those early picks — or even a package of them — towards finding a quarterback, but we can guess they’ll be active. The Browns tied a record by drafting 14 players in 2016 and were also one of the busiest teams making trades during the draft.

The Browns also have the Eagles’ second-round pick in 2018.

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Victor Cruz: I’m ready

FILE - In tis July 30, 2016, file photo, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz runs a drill during NFL football training camp in East Rutherford, N.J. Cruz returned to practice Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, for the Giants and earned the Odell Beckham Jr. seal of approval.  It marked the first time in almost two weeks that the oft-injured 29-year-old wide receiver practiced with the team, and slightly increases the hope he will be able to resume his career after two frustrating seasons. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File) AP

It looks like the long-awaited return of Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz to the field is a go for Saturday.

Cruz missed time with a groin injury this summer that kept him from playing in either of the team’s first two preseason games and led to enough speculation about his future that General Manager Jerry Reese felt the need to tell the world the Giants aren’t giving up on Cruz, who hasn’t played in a game since Week Six of the 2014 season. Cruz was able to practice this week, however, and coach Ben McAdoo said Thursday that the wideout “showed a burst” that left him “very optimistic” about Saturday.

“I’m ready,” Cruz said. “Obviously it’s been a long time coming … This one is crossing so many hurdles, so many barriers… To me, this game is bigger than just a game.”

When asked about when Cruz would play against the Jets, McAdoo said he plans to “put him out there early in the game” and hopes to see him get the ball in his hands. Quarterback Eli Manning has the same hope, although he said he won’t pass up other receivers just to get the ball to Cruz. Given how long the road back has been, it seems like a good bet the Giants will find a way to make that happen on what’s shaping up to be a big night for the wideout.

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Ping-pong, not Madden, is the hot game for the Saints

5QnOs

The new Madden game came out on Tuesday (it’s excellent, and I say that even though I’ve never gotten a free copy of it), so I asked Saints quarterback Drew Brees during a Wednesday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio how much time he spends telling younger players to quit spending so much time playing the popular NFL video game.

“Plenty,” Brees said. “Listen, they get into it. I mean it’s about as realistic as you get.”

But Madden apparently isn’t the only source of healthy competition in the down time.

“We’ve got a ping-pong table now in our locker room that I think has kind of taken over the video game stuff,” Brees said. “That’s become like the new competitive thing that guys are doing in between meetings and such is getting in there on the ping-pong table. I’m actually impressed with some of the hand-eye coordination of some of these big guys on our team.”

So who’s the best player?

“Good question,” Brees said. “Cam Jordan on our d-line is pretty stout. Kasim Edebali is pretty stout. I saw Brandin Cooks on there the other day. That’s the first time I’ve seen him and he kind of controlled the table there for about thirty minutes. About three or four guys came through and he beat them all, so I don’t know jury is still out. I’d imagine there’s about five guys that would argue they’re the best.”

Is Brees, who like most successful quarterbacks is competitive about everything, one of the five?

“Well, see,” he said with a laugh,” that’s where I’m just kind of sitting back studying how these other guys play and then I’ll step in when it’s appropriate.”

It would be appropriate for these ping-pong games to be televised. It could be better than Hard Knocks. Then again, that bar is lower than the net on a ping-pong table.

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Browns get Patriots’ fifth-round pick for Barkevious Mingo

Barkevious Mingo AP

For the sixth pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Browns have received what will likely be a late pick in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft.

The Patriots have sent their fifth-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Barkevious Mingo, according to multiple reports.

As much as that shows what a bust Mingo is, it’s actually not a bad deal for the Browns, considering there was talk out of Cleveland that Mingo wasn’t even going to make the 53-man roster this year. It also means Mingo is sure to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, as New England wouldn’t give up a fifth-round pick and then turn around and cut Mingo before the start of the season.

The Browns have a huge haul of picks in the 2017 draft: They have two picks in the first round (their own and Philadelphia’s thanks to the Carson Wentz trade) and two picks in the second round (their own and Tennessee’s thanks to a 2016 draft-day trade), they are expected to get multiple compensatory picks, and they’ve now added a Patriots fifth-rounder to the mix.

The Patriots had already lost their fourth-round pick as a Deflategate penalty, so they’re now without their own picks in back-to-back rounds, although they have traded for Seattle’s fourth-round pick.

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Report: J.J. Watt expects to practice next week

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 03: J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans celebrates after sacking Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars (not pictured) in the first quarter on January 3, 2016 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt sent out a tweet featuring a picture of himself on the field captioned “Soon” on Wednesday, a few days after coach Bill O’Brien said that he thought Watt would be back “sooner than later” from the back surgery that has kept him out of action this summer.

O’Brien’s answer was a more optimistic one than his previous one, which indicated that there was a chance that Watt would miss the first two weeks of the regular season while continuing to recover from the surgery. Things are continuing to look up on the Watt return front.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Watt expects to return to practice next week, which would seem to make the odds that he’ll play in the first two weeks of the regular season more likely. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle quotes a source that says “it wouldn’t be a surprise” if Watt is able to play in Week One.

Watt could still be held to a limited number of plays if he’s back for the first weeks of the season, but a little Watt is far better than no Watt for a team that counts him as their best overall player.

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NFL, James Harrison quiet after PED interview

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 6: Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Indianapolis Colts scrambles as James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers applies pressure during the second half of the game at Heinz Field on December 6, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

As expected, Steelers linebacker James Harrison submitted for his Al Jazeera-sparked PED interview on Thursday morning. Via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both sides kept quiet after the meeting ended.

That’s likely good news for Harrison, because if he saw or heard anything in the room that made him think that the league wasn’t accepting his denial of knowing Charles Sly of the Guyer Institute or using PEDs, Harrison surely would have said something about it on the way out of the room, if not sooner.

It fits with the theory making the rounds that the league made it known to Harrison and/or his agent that, if he simply shows up and answers the questions, exoneration will be perfunctory.

Harrison likely assumes that the next step will be the issuance of a press release from the NFL that clears him. If not, he’ll then have plenty to say.

At some point, if he’s not exonerated, everyone will get a chance to see what Harrison said in Thursday’s meeting.

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