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La’el Collins: This is going to be the best offensive line in history

The Cowboys signed tackle La’El Collins as an undrafted free agent on Thursday, which usually isn’t the kind of roster move that’s followed by a press conference.

Collins isn’t the usual undrafted free agent, though. He was a potential first-round pick who went undrafted last week while he waited to speak to the Baton Rouge police about a pair of murders they said he wasn’t suspected of committing at the time and again after speaking to him on Monday. That interview jumpstarted Collins’ courtship by NFL teams and he explained why he chose the Cowboys over the other interested parties.

“I got a call from [Cowboys owner Jerry] Jones a couple nights ago and we had a long talk … First time I thought someone had seen me for who I am,” Collins said, via David Helman of the team’s website. “I had the opportunity to choose, from 32 teams, where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy.”

Collins shrugged off the drop in salary associated with dropping out of the draft, saying that it’s more than he made in college. It probably doesn’t hurt that he joins a talented Cowboys offensive line and the rookie didn’t waste much time making a big prediction about what he thinks his addition will mean to the group.

“This is going to be the best offensive line in NFL history. Mark my words,” Collins said.

Coach Jason Garrett said that Collins can play both guard and tackle, adding that they’ll sort out their best five players in the coming months. He also called Collins mature and tough “beyond his years,” two traits that should help him as he tries to be part of that quintet in his first NFL season.

[Photo credit: @dallascowboys on Twitter]

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Parole board member wore his Chiefs tie on purpose to O.J. hearing

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No, your eyes were not deceiving you. Yes, a member of the Nevada parole board was wearing a Chiefs tie during O.J. Simpson’s hearing yesterday.

And yes, he did it on purpose, knowing he’d be on television.

Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star caught up with board member Adam Endel, and he admitted he was playing for the cameras.

“Yeah, that’s safe to say,” Endel said. “It was one of those little things I figured someone might spot from Kansas City, but I didn’t realize it was going to blow up that much. It’s crazy now.”

Endel grew up about an hour east of Kansas City, and said he doesn’t hide his fandom since he moved to Nevada (which he did after college).

“If you saw my office, it’s covered in Royals and Chiefs stuff,” Endel said.

He’s been on the board since 2009, but never drew this kind of attention. And because of that, his only nerves were about clashing, so he chose the black shirt which made the Chiefs gear stand out in even sharper relief.

“I can’t match things very well,” Endel said. “So I have to wear solid colors most of the time. My wife’s not around always.”

Somehow, we feel like Andy Reid can totally identify with that.

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Emmitt Smith on all-time ranking: My stats speak for themselves

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Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith took notice recently when a couple of rankings of the greatest running backs in NFL history put him lower than he thought he deserved.

When former Cowboys personnel man Gil Brandt ranked the top running backs, he listed Smith 10th. When Peter King assembled a panel of experts to draft their own all-time teams, Smith was the 16th back taken.

But Smith says that his legacy is secure, thanks to two all-time records: Smith ran for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns, both the best in NFL history.

“You always have to go back to, ‘What is the criteria for the greatest running back of all-time?’ ” Smith told the Dallas Morning News. “And if you really want to have a legitimate conversation about the best running back in National Football League history, or the best player in NFL history, then you have to create the criteria. And if you create the criteria, then anybody who’s chiming in can give you their true opinion. Because now you have something you can actually gauge it against. Everything else is so arbitrary. So I think they are just doing it to create a conversation in the marketplace. I’m not going to overly concern myself with it. Because at the end of the day, eighteen three fifty-five speaks for itself. One hundred sixty-four speaks for itself.”

Smith is obviously right that his career numbers stack up with anyone, although he also put together his numbers running behind a great offensive line that some of the other top backs in NFL history could only dream of. He also kept compiling yards and touchdowns when he was well past his prime, which put his totals out of the reach of players who retired earlier. And Smith’s yards per carry average of 4.2 is a full yard behind Jim Brown’s 5.2.

Smith is justified if he considers himself the best of them all, as are others who look at the totality of NFL history and don’t put Smith in the company of the 10 best running backs ever.

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Wes Welker praises Deshaun Watson’s work ethic, demeanor

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New Texans assistant Wes Welker had the unique experience of catching passes from both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. During a recent visit to PFT Live, I asked Welker for one thing he’s noticed about Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson that reminds him of either guy.

“I think he has a great work ethic,” Welker said. “I think that’s one of the key things that I’ve noticed from him is just the way that he handles his business. Kind of the demeanor that he has. He has a winning attitude which was showed on the field there at Clemson. I think the work that he’s going to put in that you have to have and the repetitions that you gotta go through. Not only physically on the field but mentally in your head of studying and being on top of everything day in and day out. I’ve been impressed with how he’s kinda handled himself and the way he’s gone about his business.”

Welker’s assessment meshes with plenty of other opinions and observations regarding the rookie, who currently isn’t the starter but inevitably will be. The only question is when.

For more from Welker, including a story about Welker pulling a great prank on Brady and some details about the challenges of playing slot receiver, check out the full interview.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 10: Tennessee Titans

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The Titans lost both their quarterback and their playoff chances on Christmas Eve when Marcus Mariota went down with a broken ankle.

The fact they were that close underscores how solidly they’re built, and how close they are to making their turnaround real.

After solidifying both lines (their offensive line doesn’t get the publicity of others, but is among the best in the league starting with tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin), this offseason was spent adding skill position talent for Mariota.

While they might have surprised some by taking wide receiver Corey Davis fifth overall, they think he can be the kind of lead dog that group needs. Third-rounder Taywan Taylor also has some promise for a group that’s suddenly deep. Being able to pick up a solid veteran like Eric Decker late in the offseason was a gift, and should help Mariota balance things out offensively.

They’re not a particularly flashy team, such that a Mike Mularkey-coached team ever would be. But they’re nothing if not stable, and suddenly making people realize it.

Biggest positive change: The Titans were forced into too many shootouts last year, primarily because they were 30th in the league in pass defense.
So they made it a priority to add to the secondary, spending heavily on cornerback Logan Ryan and bringing safety Johnathan Cyprien in in free agency, and then using their second first-rounder on cornerback Adoree Jackson, who was one of the best athletes in this year’s draft.

They needed to make big changes there, and if they work out, it’s going to be harder to find weaknesses.

Biggest negative change: It’s hard to find one. Sure, they lost veteran tight end Anthony Fasano, but that’s not a deal-breaker.

If anything, they’ve lost the ability to surprise people, as they’re suddenly a trendy pick and getting more attention than they have in years.

Coaching thermometer: It ought to be absolutely frozen.

Mularkey might not inspire deep feelings among the fanbase, but his old-school methods have stabilized things there and are working.

Whether it works long-term remains to be seen, as his reputation with players is of a guy who can wear guys out (physically and mentally). But at the moment, it’s hard to argue with the job he’s done.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Mariota has everything you’d want in an NFL star quarterback except perhaps personality. It would be curious to know if there’s one lurking deep inside there.

Not every quarterback has to be Brett Favre (on or off the field), and perhaps his stoic demeanor is a thing to be applauded in an age where everything is hype.

How they can prove us wrong: If the grind of being a physical team wears on them more than their opponents, they could easily fade.

The AFC South, long a punchline, is deeper and more talented than it’s been, so it’s actually going to take some work to win the division this year. But if the secondary improves, if Davis fulfills his promise, and Mariota gets used to having more to work with, the Titans could become a threat for years to come.

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Dwayne Harris: Cowboys “probably” look better on paper than Giants

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Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said his team will repeat as NFC East champions, which is the sort of comment that might rile up members of a rival team but at least one Giants player is taking a more relaxed look at the state of affairs in the division.

Giants wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who broke into the NFL with the Cowboys, was asked about how the two teams stack up during a Friday appearance on NFL Network. Harris’ answer was complimentary to Prescott’s team while also making sure to drop in a reference to the Giants’ two wins over Dallas last season.

“You know, I let people think what they want to think. They, on paper, they probably look better than us right now,” Harris said. “But we always match up good with them, so we’ll see.”

Opinions will likely vary about how the two teams match up on paper, but the Giants certainly aren’t conceding anything in July. They made the playoffs last year, addressed some offensive shortcomings this offseason and Harris’ teammate Jason Pierre-Paul was willing to call the team a Super Bowl contender.

We’ll begin to find out if that’s the case on September 10 when the Giants and Cowboys open the season with a Sunday night clash on NBC.

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Nicole Brown’s sister takes issue with O.J. Simpson’s “conflict-free life” claim

AP

One of the more bizarre moments during Thursday’s O.J. Simpson parole hearing happened when Simpson at one point blurted out that he’s led a “conflict-free life.” The moment was particularly significant to the families members of the people that, according to the California civil justice system, he killed.

“Really? You beat my sister,” Nicole Brown’s sister, Tanya, told TMZ. “Regardless of . . . murdering her and Ron [Goldman] the fact is that my sister has diary entries dating back to 1978 about abuse that was inflicted, and also there was that infamous 911 call that he mentioned.”

Regardless of whether you believe Simpson did or didn’t kill his ex-wife and a man who was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, a jury found Simpson responsible for the deaths under the much lower burden of proof than the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar.

If you personally have doubts, reasonable or otherwise, about whether Simpson did it, read this assessment of the documentary from 2016.

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Sean McDermott: You can’t be effective as a one-sided head coach

AP

Bills head coach Sean McDermott was the defensive coordinator of the Panthers before getting the top job in Buffalo this offseason, so his natural inclination is to hang around the defense when the Bills are practicing at training camp this summer.

McDermott’s new job calls for him to work against that inclination, however, and he says that’s just what he will do during his first training camp with the team. He said that he’ll be in meetings with position groups so that he can be both a learner and an instructor as time goes on.

“You can’t just be a one-sided head coach and be effective,” McDermott said, via the Buffalo News. “I want my influence to be felt in all three phases. Certainly, the defense comes naturally for me, but that said, I’ve had ideas for what I want the offense and special teams to look like as well. I think the tendency for some is when you get into the special-teams periods and things like that to just, ‘Hey, that’s an off period for coaches sometimes.’ And special teams is where you win games. You’re going to win or lose sometimes two or three games a year on special teams or situational football.”

McDermott has spent his entire time in the NFL working for Andy Reid and Ron Rivera and said both men have influenced his approach to building his own approach to running a team. It promises to be different than the one Rex Ryan took and the Bills hope that’s only the start of the differences.

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Friday morning one-liners

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What’s the outlook for Bills RB LeSean McCoy for the 2017 season?

Dolphins C Mike Pouncey will get his hip checked out before training camp.

Musing about the chances of an undefeated season for the Patriots.

Jets WR Quincy Enunwa is stepping into a bigger role.

The Ravens donated $1.5 million to a local high school.

DT Geno Atkins has earned a place among the top Bengals of all time.

Breaking down the Browns linebackers.

Steelers LB Ryan Shazier compared WR Antonio Brown to The Terminator.

Texans S Andre Hal hopes to have a better season than he did in 2016.

Is there reason to be excited about the Colts wide receivers?

Several players are vying for rotation spots on the Jaguars defensive line.

A look at the Titans schedule.

The Broncos website names 15 players to watch at training camp.

More about the guy in the Chiefs tie who was involved in O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing.

Raiders CB Gareon Conley weighed in on a rap feud.

How will things shape up on the Chargers offensive line?

A take on the 10 best Cowboys players during Jerry Jones’ time as owner.

A stab at predicting the Giants’ 53-man roster.

The secondary is a big concern for the Eagles.

DL Joey Mbu is trying to find a role with the Redskins.

Who will start at safety for the Bears?

The Lions will have some competition at guard this summer.

A breakdown of Ty Montgomery and the rest of the Packers running back corps.

The Vikings have high expectations for T Riley Reiff.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan is impressed by the video board at the team’s new stadium.

It didn’t take long for interim G.M. Marty Hurney to announce his first move since returning to the Panthers.

The Saints have an official supermarket.

Said Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, “This isn’t the time of year where you need to give those guys a big pep talk about what we’re going to be. We’re a team that’s building, a team that’s getting better, and we’re trying to chip away at it every day.”

Three questions for the Cardinals defense to answer.

Getting to know some of the Rams rookies.

The 49ers inside linebackers will be battling for playing time during training camp.

Will the Seahawks get more from TE Jimmy Graham this season?

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Saints hire former Dolphins executive for analytics role

AP

The Saints have added to their front office, hiring a former Dolphins executive to bolster their analytics department.

According to Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints hired Ryan Herman as a football analyst.

He worked for the Dolphins as director of football administration, leaving them in August 2016. He started there in 2010, and worked on the salary cap under former General Manager Jeff Ireland, who now works for the Saints as assistant G.M.

The Saints didn’t elaborate on his role, but he’s believed to be their first staffer devoted to analytics.

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Derek Carr: If refs would call holding, Khalil Mack would get 30 sacks

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Raiders quarterback Derek Carr may have the highest salary in the league, but he also may not even be the best player from the Raiders’ 2014 draft class.

Carr thinks Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack would blow away the league’s sack record and record 30 sacks if referees would call holding the way they should on offensive tackles who grab Mack.

“Because we know this is going to blow up, I’m gonna say 30,” Carr said on SiriusXM. “If he doesn’t get held . . . if they start calling the holdings, if they start calling them like they should — I’m saying 30.”

Mack has a total of 30 sacks in his three-year NFL career, so expecting him to get 30 in one season is unrealistic. Maybe Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks in a season is a more realistic goal.

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Lions hire Barry Sanders for marketing post

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The Lions are clearly trying to mend fences with Calvin Johnson, inviting the retired wide receiver to training camp after an offseason of critical comments about the team. But they’ve taken another step to bring another legend back into the fold.

Via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, the Lions have hired Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders as a “brand ambassador.”

Sanders’ sudden walkaway after 10 seasons was the template for Johnson leaving the team at 30. Like Johnson, he was still producing at a high level when he retired (rushing for 1,491 yards in his 10th season). But the abrupt departure caught many off guard, which is why the team feels this is an important move.

“We’ve thankfully, the last couple years, had an unofficial relationship with him,” team president Rod Wood said. “This year, we formalized it. You described it well, it’s kind of a brand ambassador. He’ll be going on road trips, showing up for suite visits, he’ll be at the Taste of the Lions event, and just interacting with our fans on behalf of the team.

“It’s a formal agreement. I worked with Barry and his agent to put something together that works for both of us. It’s not a football role. It’s more of a marketing, business role.”

Though the circumstances of Sanders’ and Johnson’s departures from the team are similar, Wood was hesitant to connect recent efforts to get them back in the family.

“I’m not going to try and draw comparisons to the two,” Wood said. “I wasn’t here when Barry left, but I’ve been really involved bringing him back into the fold. Like I’ve said, I’m confident the Calvin situation will work itself out.”

Considering some of the things Johnson has said lately, it might take a little more time on that front.

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Jason Pierre-Paul thinks Giants are a Super Bowl contender again

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It’s late July, and no one has put on pads yet. So naturally, they all think they’re going to the Super Bowl.

OK, maybe not the Jets.

But New York’s other team is in position to contend for the title, according to their longest-tenured defensive player.

“I think the key is we added a lot of guys and people are like ‘Wow, this year has to be a team that goes to a Super Bowl this year,’ ’’ Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. “But it’s all about the hard work.’’

Much of that offseason work included signing Pierre-Paul to a long-term deal, though the rest of their big moves were on offense after last year’s splurge on defensive free agents. And has hard as it may be to believe, the 28-year-old is an elder statesman now, with only quarterback Eli Manning and long snapper Zak DeOssie having been there longer.

“That’s crazy,’’ he said. “Nobody on that defense has been here longer than me, I’ve been there the longest, I know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, to bring a Giants pride in our heart. That’s what defense is really about.’’

And because it’s late July, they (along with everyone else in the league) think that will lead them to Minnesota for the Super Bowl.

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Report: Rams to hire Brian Xanders to front office role

AP

The Los Angeles Rams are set to add former Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos executive Brian Xanders to their front office, according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.

The Lions decided to part ways with Xanders in May. He had been a holdover from prior general manager Martin Mayhew and the Lions’ new G.M., Bob Quinn, elected to move on without him.

Xanders could be filling the post vacated by the departure of Ran Carthon in April. Carthon had served as the Rams’ director of pro personnel for the last five seasons.

Xanders spent the last four years in Detroit as a senior personnel executive. He had previously served five years in Denver – first as an assistant general manager in 2008 and then four years as the general manager with the Broncos through the 2012 season. He spent 14 years with the Atlanta Falcons in various roles before heading to Denver.

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Packers assistant Darren Perry convicted, fined for drunk driving arrest

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Green Bay Packers safeties coach Darren Perry pleaded no contest and was fined for a December arrest for drunk driving, according to Paul Srubas of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Perry was fined $225 with an eight-month suspension of his license for the first-time offense, which is deemed an ordinance violation in Brown County. Additional fees and costs bring the total to $956. The plea agreement led to other charges being dropped against Perry, including unsafe lane deviation and refusal to take a breathalyzer test.

Perry has spent eight seasons with the Packers and 15 years in the NFL as a coach. He spent time as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders before joining Mike McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay in 2009.

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Jaguars place Marquez Williams on PUP list

As training camp gets set to open for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team placed fullback Marquez Williams on the physically unable to perform list on Thursday.

Williams was a seventh-round pick of the Jaguars in May’s NFL Draft out of the University of Miami.

Williams will continue to count against the 90-man roster limit in the preseason and be activated any time before the start of the regular season upon passing a physical. Players must be on the PUP list from the start of training camp in order to be eligible for the in-season version of the list, which would require the players to miss the first six weeks of the regular season before being eligible to return.

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