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Report: Vick Ballard tore his Achilles

Vick Ballard AP

The Colts saw running back Vick Ballard get carted off the field at practice on Friday and initial reports are that Ballard has suffered a severe injury for the second straight season.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Ballard tore his Achilles tendon during the workout. That sets up another lost season for Ballard, who tore his ACL in the first week of the 2013 season and missed the remainder of the season.

It also leaves the Colts looking a bit shaky at running back heading into the preseason. Trent Richardson did not impress anyone after arriving in Indianapolis in a trade with the Browns after Ballard got hurt last season and Ahmad Bradshaw ended last season on injured reserve with a neck injury. Bradshaw has also dealt with foot troubles throughout his career, which creates further reason to worry about their depth.

Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and Zurlon Tipton round out the running back group, which makes it seem likely that the Colts will be looking for help outside the organization if and when they confirm Ballard’s diagnosis. Michael Bush, Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee are some unsigned veteran options that could be of interest to the Colts.

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Pete Carroll on Marshawn Lynch: It’s called a contract for a reason

Marshawn Lynch, Pete Carroll AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is unhappy with his contract and expressing that displeasure by staying away from training camp, an approach that General Manager John Schneider says that the team isn’t planning to give him another one with two years to go on the current pact.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed Schneider’s comments on Friday, saying that the deal they gave Lynch in 2012 was part of the organization’s long-term plan to build a winning team and that they expect Lynch to hold up his end of that contract.

“It’s a contract for a reason. We made a decision and it was signed, by us and by them,” Carroll said, via USA Today. “We expect them to honor their contract just as we will. We’re going to honor it and we expect them to do the same.”

Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and other players released by the Seahawks with time and money left on their contract would probably be interested to know that the Seahawks’ policy is to honor every contract until the moment it expires, especially since they were doing Lynch one better and showing up for work before they were cut loose. USC might feel the same way about Carroll leaving the school for the Seahawks while still under contract.

Carroll’s skewed view of the way contracts work is beside the point when it comes to the Lynch situation, though. Right now, the Seahawks have made it clear that they’ll move on with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael before giving Lynch any more money and Lynch has made it clear he won’t show up until he gets more money. Someone is going to have to change their mind if Beast Mode is going to run again this season.

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Tyrann Mathieu says he’s 6-8 weeks away from returning

Tyrann Mathieu AP

The Cardinals placed safety Tyann Mathieu on the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier this week, a procedural move that confirms he’s not ready to start practicing after last year’s torn ACL.

The team can remove the designation and allow Mathieu to practice at any point during camp, but it doesn’t sound like that’s imminent. And it might not happen at all.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that Mathieu said Friday that he thinks he is 6-8 weeks away from playing, a time frame that fits with coach Bruce Arians’ earlier comment that he wasn’t expecting to have Mathieu back before October 1.

The question for the Cardinals, then, will be whether they activate Mathieu from the PUP list at all or if they will have him remain on the list into the regular season. If they opt for the latter route, Mathieu will not be allowed to play or practice for the first six weeks of the season and the Cardinals could fill his roster spot with another player.

It’s premature to make any assumptions about which way they’ll go, but it is certainly a possibility if Mathieu is going to miss the first month of the season.

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Drew Brees wants to play until he’s 45

Buffalo Bills v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

No one in New Orleans is talking about a future without Drew Brees at quarterback just yet and it will be a good while before anyone starts the conversation if Brees gets his way.

Brees has seen quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre remain productive into their late 30s and believes that he can follow in their footsteps. In fact, Brees, who turns 36 in January, thinks he can last even longer than Favre, who turned 41 during his final season with the Vikings.

“No doubt. There’s no question,” Brees said, via Albert Breer of NFL Network. “I’m not getting ahead myself, like it’s a pipe dream, at 45. I understand the challenges that come along with that. But why not? If I can stay healthy, and I’m having fun and playing at a high level, why wouldn’t I wanna do that? The biggest challenge is physically, the maintenance, the recovery, the way you train. You gotta hope that you stay healthy, but why not?”

Odds are that Brees’ luck on the health front won’t be charmed enough for him to play another 10 years, but there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to play at a high level through the end of his current deal with the Saints. The team seems to agree, moving to add players like Jairus Byrd, Brandin Cooks and Champ Bailey this offseason in hopes of maximizing the championship window opened by having an elite quarterback that has already brought one title to town.

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Evan Mathis feels he had leverage, but didn’t want to strong-arm team

Howard Mudd, Evan Mathis AP

Eagles guard Evan Mathis reported for camp this week despite his desire for a new contract and his feeling that he was well-positioned to force the team’s hand because of right tackle Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension.

Had Mathis held out, the Eagles would have faced the possibility of replacing two starting offensive linemen on the fly and that could have softened their stance against reworking Mathis’ deal. Mathis, who is set to make $5 million this year in the third year of a five-year deal, still wants a new deal but said that he didn’t want to do so by potentially hurting the team at a moment when they were already missing a starter.

“It gave me plenty of leverage, if I was to hold out. The fines had nothing to do with it. But what I’d be doing to my teammates and coaches — that’s the ultimate reason,” Mathis said, via CSNPhilly.com. “I’m not trying to strong-arm the team. I’m not trying to put them in a bad situation to get what I want. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m not really worried about it. Hopefully it works out. If it doesn’t, I’m still going to be the same football player.”

Mathis’ presence will make it easier for the Eagles offense to succeed while Johnson is out of the lineup and it could help get things moving with the Eagles if they feel Mathis needs to be in camp to talk about a revised deal, but the two remaining years beyond this one on the contract give them plenty of reason to wait with Mathis giving up whatever leverage he may have had.

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John Idzik maintains Jets quarterback competition isn’t tilted to Geno Smith

Michael Vick, Geno Smith AP

It wouldn’t be a Jets training camp without beat writers painstakingly counting first-team reps for the players aspiring to be the team’s starting quarterback and the practice has continued in 2014.

Geno Smith has taken 75 percent of the snaps with the first team in the early days of camp, which would seem to lend credence to the widely held belief that he has an edge over Michael Vick. It’s a belief held by Vick and one that many members of the Jets have also espoused since the start of camp, but General Manager John Idzik continues to insist that the team is not leaning in any direction.

“I don’t think it’s tilted at all,” Idzik said, via the New York Daily News. “It’s not just purely quantifiable like that and reading the playtime and the reps and drawing assumptions from that.”

Vick has a much longer track record than Smith and it is understandable that the Jets would feel less of a need to see him in action right now, especially since he has already played for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. When every other sign points to it being Smith’s job to lose, though, it points more to the Jets wanting Smith to avoid any complacency that could come with having the job than the kind of open competition that the team has said it is at other points this offseason.

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Vick Ballard carted off at Colts practice

Vick Ballard, Tracy Porter AP

Running back Vick Ballard got the green light to participate in training camp this week, a little less than 11 months after he tore his ACL in the season opener last season.

Ballard’s return to work has taken a turn for the worse, however. Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star reports that Ballard was carted off the field during Friday’s practice.

Chappell and colleague Stephen Holder are both speculating that Ballard injured his ankle, with Holder reporting that Ballard wasn’t able to put any weight on his left foot.

We’ll wait for something more official from the Colts, but any extended absence for Ballard would put more pressure on Trent Richardson to live up to the price — a first-round pick — that the Colts paid to acquire him in a trade with the Browns last season. The Colts have expressed plenty of optimism that Richardson will do so, but having Ballard would make life much easier on Indy this season.

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Rob Gronkowski: I’m not changing my style one bit

Rob Gronkowski AP

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s right knee is feeling well enough that the Patriots felt confident that he didn’t need to start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but Gronkowski said Friday that isn’t the same thing as being 100 percent.

Gronkowski expects to be limited in practice when the team is in full pads as he works to make sure he’s totally healthy in time for the first game of the season. That wasn’t the case last year, when Gronkowski’s back and forearm surgeries conspired to keep him off the field early in the year. Once Gronkowski is fully operational, he says that the slew of injuries won’t impact his playing style.

“Nah, I ain’t changing that one bit,” Gronkowski said, via WEEI. “I’m going to go full speed when I’m out there and I’m going to keep smashing and dashing in everything I do. Maybe if it’s not necessary one single bit I’ll go down [to the ground]. But if I can make some plays and make some extra yards and get in the end zone, I’m definitely going to go full speed and do everything I can.”

While Gronkowski and the Patriots would be wise to eliminate unnecessary risks, there aren’t that many of those involved in the life of an NFL tight end who is essential to his team’s offensive success. Gronkowski is going to get hit when he has the ball, he’s going to get hit when he’s blocking and he’s going to be left in vulnerable positions while trying to catch balls, all of which are integral to doing his job and going less than 100 percent in any area is going to lead to more bad outcomes than good ones.

That may mean more injuries, but that risk comes with the rewards of having Gronkowski in the lineup.

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Belichick on Jerod Mayo: He’s the guy that the team revolves around

Jerod Mayo AP

There’s been a big focus on the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason, something that makes sense given how much better the New England offense was when Gronk was in the lineup last season than it was when he was out of action.

Gronkowski wasn’t the only key member of the Patriots to miss large portions of last season, however, and coach Bill Belichick spent some time Friday explaining how important one of the other returning players is to the team. Belichick says that linebacker Jerod Mayo is vital to what the team hopes to accomplish on both sides of the ball.

“I think he means a lot to our team. He’s, I’d say, really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player. Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that but I think he touches pretty much everybody, not just the defensive players but all the guys; not just the older guys but the younger guys,” Belichick said in his Friday press conference. “He’s got great work ethic, great presence on the football field and great personality that’s, I’d say, in a very good way professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and the coaches. I think he’s as well respected as any player in the locker room. I’d say one of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of a glue chemistry guy I’d say that I’ve been around.”

The Patriots like to attack teams in multiple ways defensively, something that was difficult last year when Mayo was out of the lineup for 10 games with a torn pectoral muscle. With Mayo back as a mentor for Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower and other young members of the front seven, Vince Wilfork back from an Achilles injury and Darrelle Revis joining the secondary, the Pats have a defense that looks as good as any they’ve had since the early days of Belichick’s tenure as head coach.

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Muhammad Wilkerson: I’m underpaid, but that’s part of the business

Muhammad Wilkerson AP

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is one of the top players at his position in the NFL, but he isn’t paid like it.

Wilkerson is set to make $1.2 million this year and the team has already exercised their option for 2015, which is worth just under $7 million. They could then conceivably use the franchise tag on Wilkerson for the 2016 season and spend a little more than $21 million for the next three years of Wilkerson’s service, something that would be a tremendous bargain if Wilkerson remains as productive as he’s been through his first three seasons.

Wilkerson is aware of that, but says he’s “a patient man” who wants to stay with the Jets and who believes that a contract more in line with his play will come.

“Do I feel that I’m underpaid right now? Yeah,” Wilkerson said, via the New York Daily News. “But that’s part of the business. My time will come when I get a new contract. But right now I’m just worried about becoming a better player, a better teammate and a better leader.”

Wilkerson is part of the first group of first-round picks to have the fifth-year options included in their rookie deals and it will be interesting to see how teams handle extensions for those players over the next year. With the players essentially tied to the teams for two more seasons, there’s not much urgency to get an extension done although teams like the Jets have to balance that with the potential benefits of sending the message that players that perform well for the team will see their work rewarded.

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Steelers intend to address Roethlisberger’s contract after season

Ben Roethlisberger AP

There were smatterings of discussion about an extension for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is signed through the 2015 season with cap hits of $18.895 million and $18.595 million, but nothing wound up happening on that front.

That’s not because the Steelers lack interest in keeping Roethlisberger around, however. Steelers president Art Rooney II said that he spoke with Roethlisberger before the team announced the extension for center Maurkice Pouncey to be sure that the quarterback knew where the team stood in regard to continuing a relationship that has netted the team a pair of Super Bowl victories.

“And so I talked to Ben, and then we talked with his agent Ryan Tollner about where we are and the fact we intend on addressing Ben’s contract situation after the season, so that we could address a number of players who were going into their last year in 2014,” Rooney said, via the team’s website. “I think Ben understands that’s our intention and the way we’d like to proceed. I think we had a good conversation.”

Rooney said that the fact that the cap is expected to go up again next season played a role in the team’s thinking as they’ll have more room to deal with Roethlisberger’s contract after being in a tough cap situation this offseason. It will be a while before there’s more discussion of Roethlisberger’s contract, but it should be one of the bigger stories of the next Pittsburgh offseason.

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Sam Bradford is “full-go” for camp

Sam Bradford AP

The Rams hold their first practice of training camp on Friday and there won’t be any restrictions on quarterback Sam Bradford when they do.

Bradford is coming off a torn ACL, but coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that there wouldn’t be any limits on the quarterback during practice.

“Sam is in great shape,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s ready to go. We don’t have [reservations] — right now as we speak, as camp starts — he’s full-go. If we need to back him down here and there, we’ll back him down.”

One place where the Rams might back Bradford down will be in the first preseason game, which Fisher suggested would go on without the starting quarterback while also saying that Bradford would see preseason action. Whatever action he does see, Bradford will need to use it to build a strong foundation for a season that will see him try once more to prove that he’s the franchise quarterback that the Rams wanted when they took him first overall in 2010.

If Bradford can’t do that, it will likely be time for the Rams to look in another direction under center after spending the last few years concentrating on overhauling the rest of the roster.

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Andy Levitre out two weeks after appendectomy

Washington Redskins v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Titans guard Andy Levitre has become quite familiar with the operating room over the last couple of years and he added another entry to his medical records on Thursday.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Levitre had his appendix removed this week and that he will miss a couple of weeks of camp while he recovers from the procedure. Per Wyatt, Levitre began having discomfort on Wednesday and doctors determined that he needed laparoscopic surgery to remove the offending appendix.

Levitre had knee surgery before camp last year and hip surgery after the year was out, although he didn’t wind up missing any games during the regular season. The hip surgery did limit Levitre during the offseason program, however, so he will be a bit behind in terms of preparation for the coming season once he is able to return to practice.

The Titans report to camp on Friday and have their first practice of the summer on Saturday.

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Andre Johnson reports for camp

Andre Johnson AP

Andre Johnson was spotted at the Texans’ facilities earlier this week, leading many to believe that the wide receiver would end his self-imposed exile from the team and report to training camp.

That’s how things have played out. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Johnson appeared at the team’s facility again on Friday and reported on time for the start of camp.

Johnson’s agent didn’t comment on his client’s plans earlier this week, but did say that he and the Texans were communicating. Part of those discussions likely center on whether Johnson can recoup a $1 million roster bonus he lost by not taking part in voluntary portions of the offseason program, although Johnson’s gripes with the direction of the Texans and what it means for his future in Houston may also be on the agenda.

Those talks can continue, but the important news for the Texans is that they won’t have to go into coach Bill O’Brien’s first season without their top wide receiver.

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Friday morning one-liners

Dwight Freeney AP

WR Chris Hogan is trying to carve out a role with the Bills.

The Dolphins offensive line is about to get to work.

Vince Wilfork thinks the Patriots’ young defensive linemen grew a lot last year.

Jets players are calling it QB Geno Smith’s team.

Ravens LB Elvis Dumervil says he will be forever grateful to Pat Bowlen.

Which Bengals have the most to gain in training camp?

There are some concerns about the Browns linebackers.

Five questions for the Steelers to answer in training camp.

The Texans added DT David Hunter to the roster.

Colts WR Reggie Waynefelt pretty doggone good” in his return to the field.

The Jaguars named Luke Butkus as their interim offensive line coach.

Dexter McCluster expects to get carries with the Titans.

The Broncos hope S T.J. Ward brings some toughness to their defense.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles doesn’t sound like he was totally committed to a holdout.

The Raiders suffered some injuries during their conditioning test.

Chargers LB Dwight Freeney is pleased with how well he’s moving.

The Cowboys think they can have good success in the running game.

Giants RB Rashad Jennings traces his journey from “fat kid” to the NFL.

Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin is confident that his knee is sound.

The Redskins took things inside during part of Thursday’s workout.

S Adrian Wilson is eager to get to work with the Bears after a lost 2013 season.

OL Bryce Quigley is working quickly to learn the Lions scheme.

The Packers are considering variable pricing for the 2015 season.

DE Everson Griffen feels comfortable stepping into a bigger role with the Vikings.

Falcons DT Corey Peters still has designs on playing in the opener.

Byron Bell remains the favorite to be the Panthers’ left tackle.

Golfer Bubba Watson helped welcome the Saints to West Virginia.

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown thinks the team is ready for any adversity.

The Cardinals are excited to get training camp underway.

The Rams are involved in a fundraiser honoring the late Philip Lutzenkirchen, who spent time with the team last summer.

49ers rookie DB Jimmie Ward had an interception early in his first training camp practice.

Projecting the Seahawks’ 53-man roster for the 2014 season.

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