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De Smith says 18-game season isn’t his decision

AP

Sean Gilbert, who conducted a media conference call on Tuesday in connection with his plan to pursue the position of NFLPA executive director, wants to achieve a variety of gains for the players.  In return, Gilbert is willing to give the NFL something for which it had stopped asking:  An 18-game regular season.

Appearing that same day (coincidentally, or not) on ESPN’s SportsCenter, De Smith addressed the issue of expanding the regular season.

It’s not my decision to make,” Smith said.  “If someone thinks it’s better for them to play 18 games.  I know that there’s a healthy number of football players now who would say go ahead and do play 18 games.”

Current NFLPA president Eric Winston strongly opposes the idea of expanding the regular season to 18 games.  Few players have argued in favor of adding a pair of games.  Given the current climate of player health and safety, it’s hard to imagine Gilbert’s proposal taking root among the rank and file.

Smith also addressed the fact that he faces an actual challenger for the job, a dynamic that the sitting NFLPA executive director hasn’t confronted in decades.

“I don’t give much thought to people who want this job,” Smith said.  “I have the pleasure of working for the players of the National Football League, the players decide who their leaders will be.  I look forward to March.  I intend to be in this job for as long as the players will have me.”

The issue could be resolved long before March.  The election of the 2014-15 team-by-team player representatives, which will occur in the coming weeks, potentially will result in the eventual winner being determined, if at least 17 of the 32 reps favor one of the candidates.

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Martellus Bennett goes all in with Packers

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Packers tight end Martellus Bennett has been called “cheesy” before, but the name seemed to fit perfectly as he conducted interviews Thursday wearing a foam cheesehead.

“I usually like the metaphorical cheese that goes in my pocket, but the cheese that goes on my head works as well,” Bennett said. via Rob Demovsky of ESPN. “I’ve had this for a while. Sometimes I wear it around the building just to let the guys know that I’m part of the culture. I like it, though.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy refers to Bennett’s “big personality,” and it fits.

Bennett, 30, expects Green Bay to be his last stop after winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots last season. He said he took advantage of the 30 percent employee discount in the Packers’ Pro Shop, buying the cheesehead soon after he signed a three-year, $21 million deal.

On Tuesday night, Bennett spent the night in front of his locker at Lambeau Field after arriving at St. Norbert College to find the dorms locked.

“I was really sleepy throughout the day [Wednesday], but I toughed it through,” Bennett said. “It’s kind of weird sleeping in a corporate environment; you never get too comfortable. I like to Winnie the Pooh it, which is just sleep in like a hoodie, and nothing else like Winnie the Pooh, but I can’t do that here because if I Winnie the Pooh’d it here in my locker, it’s just weird. So I couldn’t get too comfortable to get too much sleep.”

Bennett handed reporters copies of his new comic book after his 30-minute interview ended.

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Crowds keep getting bigger at Patriots practices

AP

With Tom Brady now reaching G.O.A.T status, it’s critical to see him play before his career ends. It’s also critical, apparently, to see him practice.

Via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, more than 15,000 fans showed up for Thursday’s Patriots practice. The team opened Gillette Stadium ramps overlooking the practice fields to accommodate the sea of humanity hoping to see the Patriots play.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski understands the magnitude of the interest, and he acknowledges who it’s for.

“Every single year it gets louder and louder,” Gronkowski said, via Reiss. “It’s Tom. If I was in the stands, too, I’d be up on my feet cheering for him. What he’s done for this organization, for all the fans, all the football he keeps playing, it’s just unbelievable. I think every time he gets out on the field, he deserves a standing ovation. I would be one of them in the crowd doing it too.”

And that’s one of the only times that Gronk has ever used the phrase “doing it” without it referring to oh never mind.

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Jets claim running back Marcus Murphy off waivers

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The Jets claimed running back Marcus Murphy off waivers from the Saints, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post.

Murphy joins Lucky Whitehead, whom the Jets claimed off waivers from the Cowboys on Wednesday, among the competitors for the return spots. Murphy has 34 career punt returns for a 9.4 yards average and one touchdown and 19 kickoff returns for a 21.3 yards average. Whitehead has 44 career punt returns for a 6.9 yards average and 33 kickoff returns for a 25.6 yards average.

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 Saints’ offseason additions of running backs Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara and receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. made Murphy expendable.

Murphy is entering the third year of his four-year, $2.35 million contract, with a base salary of $615,000 this season.

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Drew Brees doesn’t expect or desire contract talks this summer

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In January, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said that he was comfortable playing out the final year of his contract in 2017 and nothing has changed in the interim.

Brees, who has a clause in his contract barring the Saints from using the franchise tag, said that he feels no “sense of urgency” to get a deal in place for the 2018 season. He said his focus is on making sure that he and the Saints are set up for success and that no one has been or will be talking about a new contract in New Orleans until the year is out.

“I don’t expect them to,” Brees said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I don’t really desire them to. I just want to play football. I want to help this team.”

It’s impossible to know exactly how things will play out for Brees this season, but there were no signs of impending doom last season. Brees threw for 5,208 yards while starting every game and throwing 37 touchdowns. More of the same will set him up quite nicely for when the focus does turn to contractual matters, which would explain why getting something done now isn’t an urgent matter for the quarterback.

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David Quessenberry working with first team

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David Quessenberry has worked with the Texans’ starting unit at left guard as he makes his return from cancer treatments.

Quessenberry, a sixth-round pick in 2013, spent the past three years battling non-Hodgkin T-lymphoblastic lymphoma. He finished his last chemotherapy treatment in April.

“It’s real early in camp, but I’m enjoying my reps with the first team,” Quessenberry said, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. “I’ll play wherever they want me. Right now, that’s at left guard with the first team, and I’m happy to do it.”

Xavier Su’a-Filo has returned to the practice field after undergoing arthroscopic surgery during the offseason, but Quessenberry, not Su’a-Filo is taking the first-team reps.

Quessenberry was waived by the Texans after the 2015 season but remained on the team’s non-football illness list. He had a celebrated return to the practice field this offseason.

“It’s not one of those things I enjoy revisiting,” Quessenberry said of his cancer. “It’s a tough thing to go through, but it’s kind of tied to me. As long as I’m in this league and even when I’m not in this league, it’s something that’ll always be a part of me.

“It’s not something I’ll shy away from. It’s amazing to see people who say, ‘I know your story, and it’s an inspiration to me.’ That’s important to me – if I can help someone, I’m glad to do it.”

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Martavis Bryant hasn’t been fully reinstated, can’t practice/play until he is

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When Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant was conditionally reinstated from suspension by the NFL in April, he was cleared to take part in “meetings, conditioning work and similar activities.”

Clearance for “all preseason activities,” including practices and games, called for Bryant to make arrangements for “clinical resources” in Pittsburgh. It appears whatever arrangements have been made haven’t passed muster with the league.

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert released a statement on Thursday afternoon saying that Bryant remains limited to off-field work as training camp gets underway.

“Upon his conditional reinstatement in April, Martavis Bryant was made aware it was only the beginning of a process toward a return to being a full contributing member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We have been informed by the NFL that Martavis is still in the process of being fully reinstated. Until that time, Martavis will be permitted to take part in off-the-field team activities at training camp, but he will not be permitted to practice or play in any games.”

It seems counterintuitive that players who will be suspended for games in the early portion of the season are able to practice and play in the preseason while Bryant is not, but that’s the position that the wideout is in until further notice.

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Corey Coleman confident of being cleared in assault investigation

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Browns receiver Corey Coleman expressed confidence police will clear him in an assault investigation that resulted in charges for his brother and friend.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Coleman said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, when asked if he expects to be cleared.

Coleman remains under investigation because a probable cause affidavit, filed with the Cuyahoga County grand jury indictment, says all three men attacked a 26-year-old man in downtown Cleveland on New Year’s Eve.

Jonathan Coleman, a 25-year-old former Kansas State University football player, and Jared Floyd, 24, both of Dallas, were charged with felonious assault, a second-degree felony. Both pleaded not guilty and were given a $10,000 personal bond.

Coleman wouldn’t talk about the fight or whether he was there.

“I don’t know what’s been presented,” Coleman said. “My lawyer’s taking care of all that. You probably know more about it than me.”

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Mike Evans: We have a lot to prove and haven’t won anything yet

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The Buccaneers have been the subject of a lot of optimism this offseason after following a 9-7 2016 season with moves to add players like DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard to the offense.

Some members of the team are more than willing to fuel the hype. Linebacker Kwon Alexander said “this year it’s gonna happen” when talking to the media on Thursday, for example, but wide receiver Mike Evans isn’t going that route.

Evans gets why people are buying into the team’s chances, but wants some substance before jumping to any conclusions about where this season is going.

“We haven’t won anything,” Evans said, via ESPN.com. “We haven’t been to the playoffs in the three years I’ve been here. I’m going on Year 4. … I see why there’s a lot of excitement. It’s been 10 years [since a playoff berth]. Hopefully we can break that. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’re good on paper, but we’ve got to do it.”

In addition to Evans, Alexander and the new signings, you could list Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Jameis Winston among the players providing reason to think the Bucs can end that playoff drought. For that thought to blossom into something better, Evans is right about what needs to happen next.

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John Urschel says he still loves football, “no big story here”

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John Urschel, the brilliant mathematician and Ravens offensive lineman who surprisingly announced his retirement today, says people shouldn’t read too much into his decision.

Although many people interpreted Urschel’s retirement at age 26 as a sign that he fears brain damage on the field, Urschel released a statement saying he still loves football.

“Thank you to everyone for the kind words today,” Urschel wrote. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but I believe it was the right one for me. There’s no big story here, and I’d appreciate the right to privacy. I’m extremely grateful to the Ravens, and blessed to have been able to play the game I love at the highest level. It is a great game. There are some games — like the playoff game at Pittsburgh — that I will never forget.”

Urschel said he simply has other priorities right now, namely higher education and starting a family.

“I’m excited to start working on my doctorate in mathematics full time at MIT,” Urschel said. “I’m looking forward to the chance to take courses that are only offered in the fall semester, while spending time with my fiancee and preparing myself for the new challenges that will come with fatherhood. We’re expecting our first child in December.”

The Ravens will miss Urschel on the field, but everyone who admires his intelligence and thoughtfulness will wish him well as he explores his other interests.

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Saints sign Orlando Franklin

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Orlando Franklin had options, and he has chosen New Orleans.

The Saints have signed Franklin to a one-year contract, a source tells PFT.

Franklin had also visited the Jets this week and was deciding between multiple offers. A veteran guard who started all 16 games for the Chargers last year, Franklin was released this offseason in a cost-cutting move.

The 29-year-old Franklin can also play tackle and provides a veteran presence on an injury-plagued Saints line.

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Ryan Tannehill sees major gains from Devante Parker

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With never ending questions about whether this year is the year that Ryan Tannehill will finally have a breakout year, Tannehill was asked about another member of the offense who is expected to come up big in 2016: Receiver DeVante Parker.

“I think throughout this year, I’ve probably seen more gain from DeVante than either of the [first] two years combined,” Tannehill told reporters on Thursday. “That’s exciting for us to see him coming into his own, getting his confidence up, being explosive, being physical and healthy. I think that’s what it comes down to ultimately is that he’s healthy for the first time in a long time. That’s great for us and hopefully we’ll keep him that way and keep progressing.”

So far, so good. Via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Parker “blew up” on the first day of practice, catching a touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage during the initial team period.

If Parker indeed blows up during the regular season, the Dolphins will have a formidable trio, given the presence of Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. Can it be a top-5 unit?

“Everything we do, we want to be the best,” Landry said Thursday. “It’s not top five; it’s No. 1. For us, again, it starts with today. We’re not looking ahead. We’re just trying to find a way to better what we did last year and get better every time we touch the field.”

Again, so far, so good for a team that hopes Parker can be so much better in his third season.

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Adam Jones is grateful that owner Mike Brown has his back

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Any other team might have washed their hands of Adam Jones this offseason. (Of course, any team other than the Bengals might have previously.)

But the veteran cornerback grew emotional Thursday when discussing the team’s support, saying that owner Mike Brown sticking up for him made an impact.

“When you have a guy upstairs that stands up for you, that sticks up for the players — I haven’t been around a guy like that in my lifetime, speaking of Mr. Brown,” Jones said, via Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. “So I’m very eager to be the best and make sure our group is the best. As you can see, it’s a little touching for me. . . .

“The respect and the love that I have for Mr. Brown is undeniable. Words can’t express the gratitude of how I feel about him. . . . Words can’t explain. I can’t explain . . . that I have somebody that understands me as a person and that’s not quick to judge.”

Jones was suspended the first game of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, after his arrest in January on assault charges (which included spitting on a jailhouse nurse).

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t Jones’ first brush with trouble, or even trouble in Cincinnati. And because he turns 34 in September and makes a lot of money, it’s reasonable to wonder whether it might have been the last straw. But the Bengals have always provided safe harbor for guys who need second and third and fourth chances (it’s no accident Joe Mixon ended up where he is), so Jones’ tearful salute to Brown is interesting to say the least.

But Jones has also walked around with a chip on his shoulder for years, and he admitted proving people wrong was part of his motivation as well.

“I’ve always been the one that thrived off the little things, and I’d be sitting here lying to tell you all I didn’t read half of the s— that you all write, and I do because at the end of day I have this thing in the back of my head that tells me to prove every last one of you all wrong,” he said. “Motivation comes in all different forms of factor. At the end of the day I like winning. I’ve always been like that. I love to compete to prove you guys wrong to make you write something different. Of course the record had a lot to do with it, but you guys have a lot to do with motivation, too.”

Jones is probably lucky to play for Brown, or else he might not have gotten as many chances as he has.

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Steelers extend Alejandro Villanueva

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Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva finally has a contract.

Villanueva, who had been an unsigned exclusive-rights free agent this offseason, has agreed to a four-year deal with the Steelers, according to ESPN.

It’s been a long road to this point for Villanueva, who played his college football at Army, went undrafted in 2010 and served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. When Villanueva’s military service ended he gave the NFL another shot, first failing to make the Eagles’ roster and then catching on with the Steelers in 2014. After a year on the practice squad, Villanueva became a starter in 2015 and started all 16 games in 2016.

Now the 28-year-old Villanueva has some long-term job security, and the Steelers have some security for Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side.

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Myles Garrett puts his best foot forward on first day of camp

AP

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett repeated what Hue Jackson said a day earlier: His left foot is healed, and he’s ready to go.

“After a couple of days, I knew it wasn’t too bad,” Garrett said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They were keeping me out to protect me and to protect my future. After a couple of weeks, I felt fine. It was really just about rehabbing and making it stronger so something like this won’t happen again.”

The No. 1 overall pick sprained his left foot on a would-be sack of Brock Osweiler on the second day of minicamp last month.

“I believe that I planted on Osweiler’s foot as I was coming by,” Garrett said, “so I mean in the game I won’t have to worry about it. I won’t be running by him, I’ll be taking him down.”

Garrett gave Browns fans a sigh of relief earlier this month when he posted a video on social media showing him leg pressing a friend while home working out.

“It was an old basketball teammate of mine and I think with him on it, it made it around it 1,450,” Garrett said. “He asked if he could jump on and I said, ‘Sure.’ I thought he was kidding. I needed to go up in weight, and there’s not much more room on the top so go ahead and get on. So I did him about four or five times and kept going.”
 
The former Texas A&M star was eager to get to work against All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas.

“It would be great to go against him, but that’s one thing,” Garrett said. “I’m trying to beat him.”

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Will Dez Bryant return to 2014 form in an offense featuring Ezekiel Elliott?

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Dez Bryant has never ranked higher than seventh in targets. That came in 2013. In his All-Pro season of 2014, Bryant ranked only 12th in targets with 136 but made 88 catches for 1,320 yards and a league-best 16 touchdowns.

Bryant has battled injuries the past two seasons, missing 10 total games. His combined catches (81), yards (1,197) and touchdowns (11) combined in 2015-16 don’t equal his output in 2014.

Can Bryant get back to his 2014 level in an offense that attempted only 38 passes that traveled 20 or more yards through the air last season, that drafted another slot receiver in Ryan Switzer and that plans to make running back Ezekiel Elliott an even bigger part of the offense this season?

“We’re just going to see what happens,” Bryant said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Like I said, I feel good. Also what a lot of these people have to understand, hey, man, we’re not a pass friendly offense. That’s no disrespect. I respect what we do around here, and I accepted that. But when that ball comes my way, I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.

“I sit here and say, ‘I don’t think nobody has been more productive with the amount of targets that I get.’ I don’t get as many, and I’m not complaining. At the same time, if I was getting that many passes, I’d be doing that much damage [as other feature receivers] too.”

This stands as an important year for Bryant, 28. He enters the third year of a five-year, $70 million deal with a $17 million cap hit this year and $16.5 million each of the next two seasons. The Cowboys need a healthy Bryant to show them he remains among the best at his position.

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