Report: Steelers minority owner David Tepper a “strong contender” to buy Panthers

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Jimmy Haslam went from minority owner of the Steelers to majority owner of the Browns in 2012 and someone else may follow the same path to purchasing the Panthers.

Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports that David Tepper, who owns a small piece of the Steelers and founded the hedge fund Appaloosa Management, is considered a “strong contender” to buy the team. Garafolo spoke to a source who called Tepper the “leader in the clubhouse” to buy the team from Jerry Richardson this year.

Forbes has estimated Tepper’s worth at $11 billion and he’s already gone through the league’s vetting process while making the deal to buy his stake in the Steelers. He would, of course, have to sell that stake if he’s chosen as the buyer in Carolina.

South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro is also reportedly working to put together a bid for the team, which Richardson has owned since it became part of the NFL.

Joe Thomas “still working” through decision for playing in 2018

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The Browns are still waiting for word from left tackle Joe Thomas about his plans for the 2018 season, but it may not be much longer before he’s ready to let them know.

During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Thomas said that he is “still working” through the decision about returning for a 12th season in Cleveland. Thomas added that he has set the March 14 start of free agency as a moment when he’d like to have finished that work.

“I’d like to make a decision before free agency to give the Browns the best opportunity to prepare for everything that happens in the offseason,” Thomas said. “Whether I’m going to come back or retire, I think, from their perspective, having a certain need going into free agency is important.”

Thomas has said multiple times that his health is the key factor and he’s been at the team’s facility regularly so that he can rehab the tricep injury that put him on injured reserve for the first time in his career. Thomas said he’s had a chance to meet offensive coordinator Todd Haley and spend time with other coaches, but didn’t say if anyone has been pushing him particularly hard about coming back for another year in Cleveland.

Josh Sitton feels he has “prime years” left

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Guard Josh Sitton confirmed Tuesday’s report that he will become a free agent next month as a result of the Bears declining their option on his contract for the 2018 season.

Sitton told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune that he had “a great conversation” with Bears General Manager Ryan Pace about the team’s decision and that he appreciates the team telling him well ahead of the March 9 deadline so that other teams know he will be available. Sitton also confirmed that he plans to sign with one of those teams once he’s able to officially move on from Chicago.

“I am planning on playing and hitting free agency and continuing to play at a high level,” Sitton said. “I believe I have prime years left.”

Sitton missed the final two games of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, but told Biggs he’s healed from that issue and will be ready to go for offseason work with a new team.

Report: Bears won’t pick up Josh Sitton’s option

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The Bears may be closer to winning than some people think, but it seems they don’t think guard Josh Sitton is going to help them over the finish line.

Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media report that the Bears will not exercise their option on Sitton’s contract for the 2018 season. Sitton was set to make $8 million in salary and bonuses under the terms of that option year.

Sitton joined the Bears in September 2016 a few days after being released by the Packers. Sitton, who turns 32 in June, played eight years in Green Bay and only missed seven games, but he missed six in his two seasons with the Bears.

Pelissero reports the Bears plan to go younger at guard and have the eighth overall pick to use in that pursuit if they see fit.

Jaguars exercise options on Tyler Shatley and Josh Wells

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Tight end Marcedes Lewis wasn’t the only member of the Jaguars to get his contract option picked up on Tuesday.

In addition to confirming that Lewis’ deal was extended through the 2018 season, the team also announced that they have also exercised their options on the contracts of offensive linemen Josh Wells and Tyler Shatley.

Wells signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and has played in 32 games since coming to Jacksonville. Wells made his first four NFL starts in 2017 while serving as the team’s swing tackle behind starters Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell.

While Wells was the top backup tackle, Shatley, who also signed with the team in 2014, has been the team’s top interior reserve. He’s made nine starts over the last three seasons, including four at center during the 2017 season.

Doug Martin: I believe best football is ahead of me

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The Buccaneers cut running back Doug Martin on Tuesday, ending a six-year run with the Buccaneers that featured two 1,400-yard seasons and two trips to the Pro Bowl.

Those seasons are well in the rear-view mirror at this point, however. Martin struggled over 19 appearances in 2016 and 2017 and served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy that spanned across the two seasons. None of that inspires much hope for the future, but Martin closed a statement discussing his release on an optimistic note.

“Today is bittersweet,” Martin wrote on Instagram. “I hate to leave my teammates when there is still work to be done, but respect the organization’s decision. I am in the best shape of my life physically and mentally and my best football is ahead of me. I look forward to the next stage of my career, while wishing everyone in Tampa Bay the very best.”

Martin also thanked the Buccaneers organization, his teammates and Buccaneers fans in his farewell message to Tampa. He’s free to sign with any other team, although it remains to be seen if anyone shares his belief that better days are coming his way.

Eagles want trademark on “Philly Special”

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The Eagles used “Philly Special” to help them win the Super Bowl and they can’t claim ownership of the play’s design because they got the idea for it from watching others use it before Nick Foles‘ touchdown in Minneapolis.

They are moving to take some ownership of the name of the play, however. Darren Rovell of ESPN reports that the Eagles have filed for a trademark on the “Philly Special” name with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

They have company in that pursuit. Seven other groups, including Pennsylvania brewery Yuengling, have filed for a trademark on the phrase, although Rovell points out that, unlike the Eagles, those trademarks are for future use. The Eagles have already produced a t-shirt with the phrase since it became part of Super Bowl history.

A wait of about four months is expected before the different claims are sorted out and another four months beyond that to determine if a trademark is granted or if the phrase remains in the public domain.

Torrey Smith hopes to stay in Philly in 2018

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Wide receiver Torrey Smith won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, which means he earned his second title when the Eagles beat the Patriots earlier this month.

Smith believes the reason why there hasn’t been a repeat winner since 2004 is “because there’s a lot of change within the team” from one year to the next. Smith, who signed a three-year deal last offseason, is hopeful that he won’t be among the changes to the Eagles this offseason.

“It’s something that I’m probably anticipating, being back [in Philadelphia],” Smith said, via NFL.com. “I think both sides know that, but I also know it’s a business, as well. You understand that as a player, and you have to understand to protect yourself. I’d love to be back, and hopefully it works out that way. Anything else that happens, I’ll kind of deal with it.”

Smith’s three-year deal doesn’t offer much in the way of job security. He has a non-guaranteed salary of $5 million, which makes it simple for the Eagles to move on without him and use that money to alleviate the cap pressure that they’re feeling after building a Super Bowl winner in 2017.

With Nelson Agholor stepping up last season and Alshon Jeffery landing a rich extension, that may be the likelier outcome for Smith this offseason.

Report: Eagles won’t tender Jaylen Watkins as RFA

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The window to use franchise and transition tags opened on Tuesday, but that’s not the only kind of decision involving potential free agents that teams will be making before the start of the new league year.

They’ll also be deciding whether or not to tender the restricted free agents on their roster. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Super Bowl champs have made a call on one of theirs.

Rapoport reports that the Eagles will not tender safety Jaylen Watkins. Watkins was a fourth-round pick by the Eagles in 2014, but is set for restricted free agency because he got cut in 2015. Watkins spent time on Buffalo’s practice squad before returning to Philly.

Watkins played 28 games for the Eagles the last two years and saw more time on special teams than on defense. He played three defensive snaps and 17 special teams snaps in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Vontae Davis meeting with the 49ers

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Cornerback Vontae Davis‘ search for a new home has taken him to California.

Davis, who became a free agent when the Colts released him during the 2017 regular season, met with the Bills and Browns last week. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports that he’s made his way across the country to meet with the 49ers on Tuesday.

Davis played just five games last season, but has reportedly been cleared after having core muscle surgery following his release in Indianapolis.

Dontae Johnson led 49ers cornerbacks in snaps during the 2017 season, but the 2014 fourth-round pick is set to become a free agent in March. Ahkello Witherspoon and K'Waun Williams were next up in playing time and both of them remain under contract for 2018.

Tuesday morning one-liners

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Signing S Micah Hyde last offseason paid off for the Bills.

Will the Dolphins bid for a tight end in free agency?

Patriots owner Robert Kraft was making the rounds at the NBA All-Star Game.

Previewing potential offensive line moves for the Jets in free agency.

Will the Ravens have another Orlando Brown on their offensive line?

The Bengals take a look back at T Levi Jones’ ascension to their starting lineup.

David Carr thinks the Browns should consider drafting RB Saquon Barkley first overall.

Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster flashed some dance moves.

Looking back at LB Brian Cushing‘s career with the Texans.

Colts season tickets go on sale next week.

The Jaguars can now use the franchise tag on WR Allen Robinson.

Titans LB Avery Williamson made a trip to Israel.

What do Broncos draft picks under John Elway have in common?

LB Derrick Johnson sent a farewell message to Chiefs fans.

A social media post from the Chargers didn’t get the desired response.

Reviewing the work of the Raiders defensive line during the 2017 season.

Cowboys S Kavon Frazier was part of an effort to send 662 students to see Black Panther over the weekend.

Which Giants could wind up as cap casualties?

Josh McDaniels’ change of heart cost the Eagles a key part of their coaching staff.

The Redskins have some impending free agents they may try to keep.

The Bears should have continuity at safety in 2018.

Will the Lions use the franchise tag on DE Ziggy Ansah?

Former Packers S LeRoy Butler hopes to drum up support for his Hall of Fame bid.

The Vikings have a solid running back duo.

Will the Falcons look for offensive line help in the first round?

Is G Andrew Norwell a franchise tag candidate for the Panthers?

The Saints have a mixed bag at wide receiver behind Michael Thomas.

Buccaneers DE Noah Spence is on the mend.

News of Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald‘s return for the 2018 season apparently didn’t make it to the Winter Olympics.

Breaking down the Rams defensive line ahead of free agency.

A look at pass rushers that could interest the 49ers in the draft.

Will DE Sheldon Richardson remain with the Seahawks?

Report: Dolphins set March meeting with Baker Mayfield

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Baker Mayfield created a buzz among Dolphins followers when he included #GetMeToMiami in the caption to an Instagram post in January and the team showed some interest in the former Oklahoma quarterback when they met with him at the Senior Bowl last month.

That meeting reportedly won’t be the last one between team and player. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the Dolphins have set up a dinner date with Mayfield on March 13.

Mayfield will be taking part in Oklahoma’s Pro Day workout the next day and there will be plenty of other teams taking a look at Mayfield during that event. Some of those teams will likely be drafting before the Dolphins are on the board at No. 11, which will make the time spent with Mayfield less valuable in the event he’s gone ahead of Miami’s turn on the clock.

If that doesn’t happen, the Dolphins should have a good sense about whether Mayfield is someone they want to add to the roster. They’d also keep open the possibility of dealing the pick to someone who wants Mayfield enough to make it worth their while to move out of the spot.

Taylor Gabriel “grateful” Falcons wanted him, but free agency is “a business”

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The last time wide receiver Taylor Gabriel changed teams, he didn’t have a say in where he wound up.

That worked out pretty well for him. Gabriel was claimed by the Falcons in September 2016 after being cut by the Browns and went on to score seven touchdowns on 39 offensive touches during the regular season. He showed more splash play ability with nine catches for 171 yards during a playoff run that ended with an overtime Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

Gabriel is appreciative of the chance that he got with the Falcons, but he’s now headed for free agency and knows that it may be time to move on once again.

“I love the Falcons but, like I always say, it’s a business, man,” Gabriel said, via ESPN.com. “You never know what’s going on upstairs and things like that. But I love the Falcons. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that they gave me. Going to a Super Bowl with those guys in that locker room, the brotherhood and being a part of that, that’s a blessing, man. That’s why I said I want to be a Falcon forever. That’s something special. That’s something that you don’t get going from team to team. And that’s a brotherhood that I’ll forever, forever remember if I’m with them or if I’m not with them.”

Gabriel’s production took the same turn as the rest of the Falcons offense in 2017. He dropped to one touchdown on 41 touches and saw his average gain per catch drop by five yards as Atlanta came back to Earth under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Memories of the impact he had in 2016 will likely spur interest on the open market, although the streaky nature of Gabriel’s overall NFL career will probably keep anyone from breaking the bank for his services.

LeGarrette Blount on Eagles return: It’s early, so we’ll see

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Running back LeGarrette Blount won his second Super Bowl in as many years when the Eagles knocked off the Patriots earlier this month and became part of a select group of players who won those Super Bowls with two different teams.

Blount isn’t signed for 2018, so he could have a chance at making it three straight in three different uniforms. During an appearance on NFL Network, Blount didn’t sound like that was his priority this offseason.

Blount said he loves playing for the Eagles and is especially fond of running backs coach Duce Staley.

“It’s early, so we’ll see,” Blount said. “Obviously, I like it a lot there. They like me a lot there. It’s a mutual respect and mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. You guys know how I feel about the guys, the team. I love those guys. I can’t stay enough about Duce just for the simple fact of how well I was coached there and how good he helped me understand things. I feel like Duce is one of the best running back coaches, one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my entire life. Obviously, I want to be a part of that for a while so we’ll see how it goes.”

The depth that the Eagles have in the backfield will have a role in how things play out for Blount. They’ll have Jay Ajayi in the fold for the entire offseason after a midseason trade brought him to Philly and Corey Clement showed in the Super Bowl how much he can bring to the offense as well.

Blount, who made $1.25 million for the 2017 season, remained productive after Ajayi arrived and there were no issues about sharing the backfield load. That would seem to work in his favor, but, as Blount noted, it’s a bit too early to draw any conclusions.

Teddy Bridgewater calls 2017 “my favorite season”

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Teddy Bridgewater has started at quarterback in an NFL playoff game and in the Sugar Bowl, but neither of those seasons have gone down as his favorite as a football player.

Bridgewater saves that honor for the 2017 season, which saw him play a handful of snaps and throw an interception while mopping in garbage time of one game for the Vikings. That came after Bridgewater’s career-threatening knee injury in August 2016, of course, and the context is surely significant to the place the year holds in Bridgewater’s heart.

“It was probably my favorite season by far, even though I didn’t play much,” Bridgewater said, via Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com. “This season challenged my mindset because as bad as I wanted to be out there playing, being the competitor that I am, I wanted to go to war and go to battle with my guys, I had to be out there in a different aspect. I had to be there for the guys mentally. It gave me a different role and I accepted it. It was one that was hard to accept because I’m a competitor, but I wouldn’t trade this year for nothing.”

While Bridgewater may be pleased with how the 2017 season went, he’s looking for another change in mindset in 2018. Bridgewater said after the end of the Vikings’ season that he “definitely” sees himself as a starter, although it still hasn’t been clarified whether he’ll be free to seek such a role anywhere he wants heading into next season.