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Five questions: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Buccaneers have a lot to put behind them after 2013.

But after blowing out the front office, sterilizing the locker room for MRSA and a lot of big names off the payroll (namely Darrelle Revis), it’s a new day in Tampa Bay.

They even changed the uniforms, although that might be one case where new isn’t better.

But for all the turnover in Tampa, there’s at least reason for optimism, which is something that was lacking after two seasons gone awry under Greg Schiano.

1. How quickly can Lovie Smith reshape the team in his own image?

By all accounts, quickly.

The Bucs turned over a roster like few teams in the league this offseason, on both sides of the ball. But this is clearly a team built to Smith’s specifications, with playmakers on every level of the defense, and a quarterback and an offense designed to minimize mistakes.

He’s also giving them a shot of credibility, after the fiasco that was the Greg Schiano experiment.

2. About that quarterback, is this a short-term fix?

Josh McCown has bounced around the league a bit, and has never been able to make a job his own for more than a few weeks at a time.

But he’s also respected in the locker room, and is coming off a brilliant stint in Chicago in relief of an injured Jay Cutler.

Mike Glennon isn’t so bad that they don’t think he can be their guy in a few years, but he wasn’t so good last year that Smith was willing to commit to him. Watching this position develop will be interesting as the season goes on, and if McCown can hang onto what could be his last chance at a starting job.

3. Can they keep either quarterback on his feet?

That might be the biggest question about this Bucs roster.

The offensive line was a hot mess early in the preseason, and they still can’t be sure who the guards are.

They spent free agent money on Anthony Collins to play left tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith to play center, and Demar Dotson is solid and underrated at right tackle. The spots between them are the big question marks.

They moved one presumptive starter (Jamon Meredity) to tackle after a bad debut, and are still grading a couple of kids at the moment. The two guard spots are far from a finished product, and they’ll likely look to add there via cuts or trades.

4. How much will the offense matter?

Maybe not as much as you’d think.

The Bucs have a chance to have an old-Bucs-level defense, built around defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He and linebacker Lavonte David give the Bucs a Sapp-Brooks-ish duo in the front seven, and there’s plenty of talent around them.

They’ll need to be great, but there’s a very real possibility that can happen, as Smith puts his imprint on a team with plenty of existing talent.

5. How much ground can they make up in a year?

It would probably be unfair to expect the Bucs to pull off the worst-to-first, but that’s happened often in the NFC South.

Improvement is almost certain, as they have a clear direction and a coach that inspires confidence rather than mutiny.

If they can straighten out the offensive line and run a little, there’s a real chance for them to make a big step.

But playing in a division with the Panthers, Saints and Falcons is going to make it hard to expect a playoff berth in Year One of this project.

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Broncos remain without new naming-rights deal for stadium

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The Broncos remain without a naming-rights deal for their stadium.

They prepare for another season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High despite taking over control of the naming rights last August after the sports equipment company filed for bankruptcy. The Broncos had expressed optimism at getting a new deal for 2017, but absent one, they will keep the Sports Authority signage at the stadium until they find a new partner.

“I’m a little disappointed in that,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis told Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post. “On the other hand, there’s a lot that goes into these deals, and some of them take longer periods of time than others. Some are quicker than the timetable we’ve been on. I’m looking forward to getting a deal done, but it has to be the right deal, and we’ve had discussions and we have a few more coming up. I’m not going to reveal who they’re with. It has to be the right partner, and there’s a lot of different components to it.”

Ellis knows the Broncos will have to modernize the 16-year-old stadium in attempts to keep up with new buildings in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Las Vegas as well as the game-day experience offered by the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

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Kurt Warner gets the last word in the Hall of Fame speeches

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame has released the order in which new inductees will be enshrined and, in turn, their speeches will be delivered. Somewhat surprisingly, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones isn’t going last.

Instead, the final man to take the podium will be quarterback Kurt Warner. Jones will be the next-to-last man standing. And speaking.

The full order will be Kenny Easley, Jason Taylor, Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jones, and Warner.

It will be interesting to see whether the new Hall of Famers comply with guidelines aimed at keeping the speeches manageable in length. Sometimes, however, a long speech isn’t necessarily a bad speech. Last year, Brett Favre filibustered at the microphone (shocker), but he was really, really good.

The enshrinement ceremony will happen on Saturday, August 5, two days after the Hall of Fame Game between the Cowboys and Cardinals. The game has been moved to Thursday night in order to avoid a repeat of last year’s cancellation of the game, which happened during failed efforts to prepare the field for a Sunday game following the Saturday ceremony.

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Bills trade Cardale Jones to Chargers for conditional draft choice

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The Bills traded quarterback Cardale Jones to the Chargers for a conditional draft choice. The conditional pick is a seventh-rounder, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Jones was unlikely to make the Bills roster after falling to fourth on the depth chart behind Tyrod Taylor, T.J. Yates and fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman. Taylor and Yates both previously played under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

The Bills selected Jones in the fourth round of the 2016 draft under a different front office and different coaching staff.

The former Ohio State star played only one game last season, going 6-for-11 for 96 yards and an interception in the season finale.

The trade reunites him with Anthony Lynn, now the Chargers head coach after being the running backs coach, then the offensive coordinator and then the interim head coach in Buffalo last season.

The Chargers worked out Robert Griffin III this week as they sought a backup to Philip Rivers. They have veteran Kellen Clemens and undrafted free agents Mike Bercovici and Eli Jenkins on the roster behind Rivers before Wednesday’s trade.

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Teddy Bridgewater on PUP, will speak to reporters Thursday

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The Vikings placed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on the physically unable to perform list after his physical, the team announced Wednesday. The move allows for the possibility of moving Bridgewater to the reserve PUP list for the start of the regular season.

Bridgewater has not practiced in 11 months since a left knee injury during training camp. The severe knee injury included a dislocation and several torn ligaments.

Bridgewater threw without a knee brace in July after posting an Instagram video in March of him working in a brace.

He will speak to reporters for the first time since the injury on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. CT.

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Saints make several moves, including waiving Marcus Murphy

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The Saints made several moves Wednesday, a day before training camp begins.

Coach Sean Payton announced they placed receiver Dan Arnold on injured reserve along with Dannell Ellerbe. Arnold, whom the Saints signed June 5, was injured during OTAs.

The Saints waived running back/kick returner Marcus Murphy.

Murphy joined the Saints as a seventh-round pick in 2015. He contributed mostly on special teams the past two seasons but ball security issues prompted the Saints to make Murphy inactive on game day for the final 13 games. The offseason additions of running backs Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara and receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. made Murphy expendable.

The Saints also placed center Chris Watt on the reserve/retired list. Watt joined the Saints shortly after the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp in June.

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Ezekiel Elliott practicing as if he has no worry

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Ezekiel Elliott’s moves so far have impressed. He’s looked good on the field in three days of practices and has dodged reporters afterward.

While Elliott isn’t talking, teammates are. They say the Cowboys running back hasn’t let an NFL investigation distract him.

“That’s something we always talk about when we always come out here — all your personal problems, you have to leave them at the door,” veteran running back Darren McFadden said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I feel like he does a great job with that. Once you come out here playing football, you’re playing football and everything else going on off the field, you have to worry about that later.”

The NFL’s investigation into a domestic abuse allegation against Elliott has lasted more than a year. ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently reported the league could give Elliott a short suspension to start the season despite the fact that the incident lacked enough evidence for the Columbus (Ohio) city prosecutor’s office to pursue charges.

“We don’t even talk about it,” veteran running back Alfred Morris said. “It’s not that it’s not happening or not pending or whatever, it’s just that we have a job to do. You have to leave the off the field off the field.”

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Multiple teams will be using multiple planes to travel this year

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It’s a new era in the NFL for travel, and changes to plane availability have resulted in multiple teams switching from one plane to two for road trips.

PFT has learned that at least three teams will be using two planes this year: The Steelers, Bills, and Dolphins. (We became aware of the issue via a report from Andy Slater of  WINZ regarding the Dolphins using two planes.)

The Bills will be using two planes for most trips, but not of all of them.

Earlier this year, several teams had to scramble to find air service when American restricted access. As one league source recently explained it to PFT, the airlines simply have realized that they can make more money by using planes in more traditional ways.

It’s odd to see the NFL at the mercy of the airline industry, because usually it’s pretty much everyone else who’s at the mercy of the NFL. This has sparked some speculation that perhaps the best play for the league would be to maintain its own fleet of planes that would transport teams each and every weekend, when up to 16 teams travel. The planes then would be leased for use in the offseason to corporate groups and muckety-mucks who want to travel in a bird bedazzled with NFL logos.

If/when a non-mainstream outfit like Miami Air (all due respect) fails to get the Dolphins or Steelers to a game on time, that could be the trigger for change. Until then, the new normal will include lesser availability, greater expense, and in some cities multiple aircraft.

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Bears G.M. makes it clear: Mike Glennon’s the starting quarterback

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There are plenty of questions about the Bears as they enter training camp. The identity of their starting quarterback is not among them, as General Manager Ryan Pace has already declared.

It’s not Mitchell Trubisky, the guy Pace traded up to No. 2 overall to take in this year’s draft. It’s Mike Glennon, the free agent he dropped a three-year, $45 million contract on.

“Glennon’s here for a reason,” Pace said, via J.J. Stankevitz of CSNChicago.com. “We evaluated him over the years. We’re very confident in him. Glennon’s our starter and we’re confident with that.

“This thing is going to have to play out. But Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback and I don’t think now is the time to deal in hypotheticals going forward.”

With that settled, the Bears can go on to figuring out who the starters around him will be, as Trubisky interns. Of course, with coach John Fox in a prove-it year anyway (and with a long-held preference for veteran quarterbacks instead of rookies), that might have been a moot point.

Whether Trubisky eventually wins the backup job from Mark Sanchez remains to be seen, but at the moment, No. 2 is as high on the depth chart as he’ll go.

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Coach, quarterback have little to say about Duane Brown

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Texans left tackle Duane Brown is holding out of training camp. The man who coaches him and the guy he primarily protects both tiptoed around the situation when talking to reporters on Wednesday.

“I’m just coaching the guys that are here,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien told reporters. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Duane. He’s been a captain for us my first three years here and he means a lot to me, but I’m going to really concentrate on the guys that are here and I’ll let [G.M.] Rick [Smith] handle that side of things.”

Smith is handling the contract dispute by claiming there’s no contract dispute. Which will do little to get the contract dispute resolved.

Quarterback Tom Savage took a similar approach to O’Brien’s.

“I guess all that stuff’s between him and the coach and the G.M. and all that,” Savage said. “I can’t really say much on that. He’s a good guy, though.”

It’s a smart play by Savage. Of course the quarterback wants Brown there. But he won’t be helping his own cause if he pressures Brown to show up or otherwise abandon his desire to improve his financial situation.

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Jets waive WR Devin Street

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The Jets claimed a former Cowboys receiver, cutting another ex-Cowboys receiver to make room. The Jets waived Devin Street on Wednesday after claiming Lucky Whitehead.

The Cowboys drafted Street in the fifth round in 2014. He spent two seasons in Dallas, playing in 30 games, mostly on special teams. He made nine catches for 132 yards and a touchdown with the Cowboys.

Dallas waived Street last year coming out of the preseason, and the Patriots signed him to their practice squad. He didn’t last long in New England, and the Colts added him to their active roster. Indianapolis released him before this year’s draft.

The Patriots claimed Street and then released him, and he signed with the Jets early last month.

Street, 26, played in five games with the Colts last season, making one catch for 20 yards.

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Bengals rookie John Ross still weeks away from debut

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John Ross broke the NFL Scouting Combine 40-yard dash record this spring, laying down a blazing 4.22-second time.

But he hasn’t done anything since, and won’t when the Bengals open training camp.

According to Geoff Hobson of the team’s official website, Ross “isn’t expected to make his Bengals practice debut for a couple of weeks.”

The first-rounder is coming off shoulder surgery, and hasn’t taken part in any of their offseason workouts or OTAs.

The Bengals were hoping he’d add a deep speed element to complement A.J. Green, but for the moment they’ll rely on veteran Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd in practice, until Ross gets back on the field.

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Jordan Reed to open camp on PUP list

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Injuries have proven to be the most effective method of slowing down tight end Jordan Reed over the course of his career and he’s apparently dealing with something physical again as camp gets underway.

The Redskins announced on Wednesday that Reed has been placed on the physically unable to perform list, which leaves him ineligible to practice with the team until he’s activated.

The team did not identify a particular ailment for Reed and he was a participant in the team’s offseason work, so it’s not clear what led to their decision. Given Reed’s lengthy injury history, including several concussions, it may just be a case of playing it safe until they feel comfortable ramping up his workload.

As previously reported, safety DeAngelo Hall and linebacker Houston Bates will also open camp on the PUP list. Wide receiver Kendal Thompson rounds out the group of players that aren’t ready to get on the field at the moment.

UPDATE 5:58 p.m. ET: A team spokesman announced, via Mike Jones of the Washington Post, that Reed has a big toe sprain. Some might say that the team’s offense without Reed is like an army without a leader or a foot without a big toe, so their caution is understandable given the point in the calendar.

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D’Onta Foreman’s lawyer is working to get charges dropped

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Another day, another arrested NFL player in Texas professing his innocence.

Texans running back D’Onta Foreman, who technically is in West Virginia, told reporters that his lawyer is working to resolve marijuana and weapons charges quickly.

“I definitely feel good about it,” Foreman said. “My lawyer is great. He’s doing everything possible to get everything dropped, and like I said, I’m innocent and I feel like — it’s the truth, I am innocent — so we’re looking forward to getting everything dropped and everything will take care of itself.”

Foreman nevertheless learned a valuable lesson from the experience.

“I just learned that it’s certain things and certain people that I can’t always involve myself with,” Foreman said. “Those guys that I was with are my friends but we understand now, with that happening, that there’s certain ways that we have to move and certain ways that we have to go about doing things. I think, my friend, he understands that and I understand that and we’ll definitely be better.”

The stakes are high for Foreman. Anything other than abandonment of the marijuana charges will result in a one-game suspension. If the weapons charges aren’t dropped, he could face other discipline.

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John Elway promoted to president of football operations/GM

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The Broncos gave John Elway a new five-year contract this week. Then, they gave him a promotion.

Elway received a bump from executive vice president of football operations/General Manager to president of football operations/GM. He retains full autonomy over the team’s football decisions.

“We’re football first here at the Broncos and obviously John is our leader of the team,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said in a press release. “I think he is definitely deserving of this title elevation. It’s really a recognition that he deserves for all that he does and all that he has done for this team over the years since he arrived here in 1984.”

Elway has guided the Broncos to the second-most overall wins (73) in the NFL since 2011 when he became the team’s top football executive. The Broncos also have won AFC West titles in five of the past six years while winning Super Bowl 50 to end the 2015 season.

 

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Titans sign Dennis Kelly to contract extension

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The Titans traded wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to the Eagles last year for offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, but Green-Beckham’s stay in Philadelphia came to an end when the Eagles waived him in late June.

Kelly is set for a much longer stay in Tennessee. The Titans announced on Wednesday that they have signed Kelly to a multi-year contract extension. They did not announce any of the terms of the deal.

Kelly played in all 16 games for the Titans last year and made six starts as an extra offensive lineman during his first year in Nashville. Kelly also played most of a seventh game after left tackle Taylor Lewan was ejected in the first quarter of what turned out to be a 47-25 rout of the Packers.

He also made starts at right tackle, right guard and left guard during his time in Philadelphia and Wednesday’s extension makes it clear that the Titans value that versatility up front.

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