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Terrell Owens praises Dak Prescott, takes subtle shot at Jason Witten

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Terrell Owens has made his feelings known about Tony Romo and Jason Witten. In 2008, in what ended up being Owens’ final season in Dallas, the receiver grew jealous over Romo and Witten’s relationship, accusing the two of holding private meetings to draw up plays.

So it comes as no surprise that Owens would praise Romo’s replacement, Dak Prescott, while taking a subtle shot at Witten.

Owens compares Prescott to a “taller version” of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

This guy played lights out, rookie of the year,” Owens told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on his podcast. “There is only a lot of upside to that guy. What I saw visually, the eyeball test, which he passed, he played well beyond his year in the league. I can only imagine what this guy is going to be in the years to come.”

Owens said all Prescott needs to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl is “the right people,” which includes “a good tight end.”

“You just put the right people around him,” Owens said. “[If] Dez Bryant [is] the playmaker he was a couple of years ago, and he gets some other added pieces, a good tight end, and defensively they stop some people, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

In three seasons in Dallas, Owens made 235 catches for 3,587 yards and 38 touchdowns.

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Jerry Hughes eager to get back to double-digit sack seasons

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After double-digit sack seasons in 2013 and 2014, Jerry Hughes had only 11 sacks the past two seasons combined. The Bills pass-rusher seemed ill-fit in Rex Ryan’s defense, but he also battled hamstring issues last season.

“Last year just being banged up as the season got long, dealt with some hamstring issues,” Hughes told Alex Marvez and Bill Polian on SiriusXM. “I really wanted to kind of come in early in the offseason and nip that in the bud quickly so that way I can go out there this fall and perform at high level like I know I can.”

Hughes, who has 31 sacks in four seasons in Buffalo after three unproductive seasons in Indianapolis, offered high praise to new coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

“Night and day just on how very detail-oriented they are, starting Day One when we walked into the building,” Hughes said.

Hughes expects a return to Frazier’s 4-3 scheme to benefit him and the team. The Bills ranked fourth in total defense in 2014, the year before Ryan arrived, but fell to 19th each of the past two seasons playing Ryan’s complex hybrid.

The Bills, as their fans are painfully aware, have not qualified for the playoffs since the 1999 season and have not won a playoff game since the 1995 season.

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Rooney Rule is showing its age

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In 2002, with the very real threat of litigation looming, the NFL addressed its abysmal minority hiring record by adopting the Rooney Rule. Fifteen years later, the rule named for the late Steelers chairman and Hall of Famer Dan Rooney is showing its age.

It started as a provision requiring at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for each head-coaching vacancy. It evolved to include General Managers and other high-level team executives. And it initially had razor-sharp teeth, with former Lions G.M. Matt Millen fined $500,000 for failure to comply with the rule when hiring coach Steve Mariucci, and with the league vigilant about closing loopholes, like the one the Cowboys exploited by conducting a perfunctory phone interview with Dennis Green before hiring Bill Parcells.

Now, it feels like the NFL is watching loopholes emerge, and shrugging at them. Apart from the curious failure of teams like the Jaguars and Chiefs to disclose the names of minority candidates interviewed to comply with the Rooney Rule earlier this year, the Panthers have now provided a clear blueprint for a stopgap, one-year G.M. hire that circumvents the Rooney Rule.

If a team decides after the draft (as teams sometimes do) to hire a new G.M. and the owner knows who he’ll hire, the owner can easily avoid an inclusive search by tapping the brakes until the eve of training camp, firing the G.M., and hiring the replacement on an “interim” basis. That’s quite possibly what Panthers owner Jerry Richardson did in bringing back Marty Hurney for a year; if so, it’s not like anyone will admit that.

Curiously, the Fritz Pollard Alliance has no issue with the league’s decision to allow the Panthers to hire a G.M. for an entire season without complying with the Rooney Rule. And it’s just the latest example of the group responsible for promoting the hiring of minorities getting along by going along instead of being a staunch and zealous defender of the letter and integrity of the Rooney Rule.

Whether because of improvements in minority hiring, a dramatically decreased threat of liability, or a national political climate arguably conducive to glossing over the seemingly clear requirements of hiring practices that promote diversity in an industry that hasn’t had nearly as much as it should over the decades, the rule that bears the name of Dan Rooney seems to be softening. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

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Aaron Rodgers on criticism of Mike McCarthy: We’ve got his back

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Without naming Greg Jennings, Aaron Rodgers fired back at his former receiver.

Jennings criticized Mike McCarthy on Fox Sports 1 last week, saying the coach’s conservatism has held back the Packers.

I don’t know what he said,” Rodgers told Lance Allen of Milwaukee’s TMJ4, “but again I think it’s important that when you’re thinking about comments coming from outside the facility especially by people who haven’t been around the facility in a number of years you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt. We’re concerned with the opinions of our players and our coaching staff and our organization.”

Jennings has become a frequent critic of the Packers and Rodgers since the receiver’s contentious split with the team in 2013. Jennings last played in the NFL in 2015 and now serves as an analyst for Fox.

Jennings’ latest criticism was directed at McCarthy: “I’m just going to flat-out say it: If we had a lead, our issue wasn’t the defense — our issue was Mike McCarthy. [McCarthy] would cuff us. . . . When you watch New England play, when they have a lead, they go for your throat; they don’t relax. . . . They have a great quarterback [in Tom Brady]; they have arguably the best quarterback in football, but they have — no doubt about it — the best head coach in football.”

Rodgers defended McCarthy to Allen.

“I’ve made it pretty well known how I feel about Mike,” Rodgers said. “He’s our leader and . . . we follow his lead, and we love Mike. We believe in him, and he believes in us, and so we’ve got his back.”

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Fritz Pollard Alliance expects Panthers to comply with Rooney Rule after season

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The Fritz Pollard Alliance calls the Panthers’ hiring of Marty Hurney a “special circumstance” but expects Carolina to interview a minority candidate after the season.

“Our position is it is a special circumstance,” Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said. “It’s not unlike a G.M. getting fired during the year, and they bring in someone to help them through the year. So we’re OK with that. They put the interim there and let us know that this wasn’t someone that they hired. They’re in a tough situation. They’ve got veterans they’ve got to get [extensions] done. So we’re OK with it.”

The league office told Pro Football Talk’s Darin Gantt that compliance with the Rooney Rule isn’t required for interim G.M. jobs. With the season approaching and contract extensions for Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen looming, Wooten said it would have been unfair to both the team and minority candidates to force Carolina to delay its decision simply to comply with the Rooney Rule.

However, Wooten expects the Panthers to interview a minority candidate before hiring a full-time G.M.

“I think they will,” Wooten said. “We think they’ll continue to do the way they’ve done it. They’ve made a lot of moves there that showed us that they want to go about doing it the right way. We have a great relationship with them, so we understand what they’re up against right now.

“I didn’t get into why they let [Dave] Gettleman go now, but that’s none of my business.”

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Cowboys will use caution with Jaylon Smith in his return

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The Cowboys will continue to be patient and use caution with linebacker Jaylon Smith as he returns after more than a year of rehab. Smith reported with the team’s rookies Wednesday, getting in some work ahead of the veterans despite being a second-year player.

Coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday that when the Cowboys begin practice in California on Monday that Smith will practice every other day as he did in the offseason.

“He’s done well, really had a great spring and handled the work on the field really well,” Garrett said. “He’s been outstanding in his rehab, and that’s one of the reasons we took the chance on him that we did. I think we had a really good feel for the kind of person that he is based on our experiences with the people at Notre Dame and what they said about him and then just our experiences throughout the evaluation process.

“Trust me, he hasn’t had bad days. He comes to work every day with a great spirit. It’s a challenging injury he was coming back from and he’s handled it very well. Still have a long way to go. We’re going to take it day by day, but he’s made a lot of progress.”

Smith, a second-round pick in 2016, used his rookie season as a redshirt after a devastating left knee injury in Notre Dame’s bowl game. He returned to practice this offseason and told the team website last week that he finally feels like himself again.

The damaged peroneal nerve in Smith’s left knee, though, has yet to fully regenerate, forcing him to wear a brace for drop foot. He will have another nerve test soon. Despite that, the Cowboys remain confident the linebacker will help them this season.

“We knew Jaylon’s situation, the first year was going to amount to a redshirt year,” Garrett said. “We had no expectation he’d be able to play, but he’s on schedule. We’re excited to see him come back.”

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Report: Dallas PD likely suspending assault case involving Ezekiel Elliott

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There were no arrests made at a Dallas bar on Sunday night after a man told police that his nose was broken when he was assaulted, but the Dallas Police Department said that the investigation into what happened, including claims that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott hit the man, would continue.

That investigation has reportedly run into an obstacle that would keep it from moving forward, however.

Rebecca Lopez of WFAA reports that the investigation will likely be suspended because the police have not been able to find the alleged victim in the case. Per Lopez, the victim gave officers an old address and an incorrect phone number at the time. Other witnesses are reportedly also not cooperating with law enforcement attempts to look into the case.

The NFL is also investigating what happened at the bar and they have another open investigation concerning allegations of another assault levied against Elliott by an Ohio woman last year. That allegation did not lead to an arrest or prosecution.

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Geronimo Allison suspended for first game of regular season

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When the Green Bay Packers open the 2017 regular season against the Seahawks, they won’t have receiver Geronimo Allison.

The league has announced that Allison has been suspended for one game under the substance-abuse policy. The suspension undoubtedly traces to the resolution of marijuana possession charges following an arrest in September 2016.

Allison appeared in 10 games with two starts a year ago, catching 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

He’ll be eligible to participate in training camp and the preseason, and he’ll be eligible to return the Monday after the season-opening game against Seattle.

 

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James Hardy’s death ruled a suicide

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Former Bills wide receiver James Hardy was found dead in the Maumee River in Fort Wayne, Indiana in June and the local medical examiner has made a ruling about the manner of his death.

Allen County Coroner’s Office chief investigator Michael Burris announced on Wednesday, via ESPN.com, that the office has ruled that Hardy drowned and that his death has been ruled a suicide.

The ruling was made based on evidence found on Hardy’s body as well as his psychiatric history. Hardy was committed to a mental health facility in 2014 after being found not competent to stand trial for resisting arrest during a confrontation with law enforcement.

Hardy was a second-round pick in 2008, but only played 16 games for the Bills over two years as injuries helped bring his career to a quick ending.

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Rob Ninkovich discusses the challenge of being the perennially hunted

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Linebacker Rob Ninkovich joined the Patriots in 2009. In every season since 2011, the team has made it at least to the final four, with three trips to the Super Bowl.

The cumulative physical toll of playing deep into the postseason (while plenty of teams are watching from home), constantly getting every opponent’s “A” game, and annually being tossed back to the valley of 0-0 makes the team’s ability to keep climbing to the top of the mountain (or close to it) even more impressive.

Appearing on a special edition of PFT Live (since we’re still on hiatus until Monday), Ninkovich discussed the challenge of starting over again after a deep postseason run, over and over again.

He said plenty of other things — more things than the typical Patriots player says. Then again, the typical Patriots player typically says nothing.

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Brandon Williams: Ravens defense is amazing

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Defensive tackle Brandon Williams signed a lucrative extension with the Ravens this offseason and he believes that staying in Baltimore gives him the chance to be something special.

Williams’ return was one of several moves that Baltimore made on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. They signed safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr as free agents and drafted four defensive players in the first three rounds in an attempt to build a unit that will carry on the team’s strong defensive tradition. Williams believes they have accomplished that task.

“The defense that is being built in Baltimore is one of the best — we’re going to do something really special this year, I can feel it,” Williams said, via Gridiron Magazine. “Our defense is amazing. The bar set by our defense is already very high and our goal is to notch it up even more. The defense that helped us win that 2000 Super Bowl is the standard and every year we’re trying to reach and surpass that standard. We’re never satisfied and we always want to get better.”

The Ravens have drafted 14 players on defense over the last three years to go with veterans like Williams, Jefferson, Carr, Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs, so they will need some of the youngsters to take a leap to reach the kind of heights Williams is talking about. Even if they do, finishing in the top 10 of yards allowed hasn’t gotten them to the playoffs in either of the last two seasons so they’re going to need something more on offense to snap that string.

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Jerry Jones says firing Tom Landry was doing right thing for greater good of team

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While speaking to several hundred youth, middle and high school coaches Wednesday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he has been accused of not having “the appreciation for how much difference a coach can make.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Jones said.

Jones must have forgotten his relationship with Jimmy Johnson ended when Jones famously proclaimed “any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls” after the Cowboys’ championships in 1992-93. Barry Switzer won the team’s third title of the 1990s in 1995.

Jones, though, does remember that he has yet to be forgiven by some longtime Cowboys fans for his firing of Tom Landry. Jones’ first act as owner in 1989 was to replace Landry with Jimmy Johnson.

It obviously worked out for the Cowboys, which is how Jones defended an unpopular move.

“I had such respect for coach Tom Landry,” Jones said. “I was motivated to be a part of this organization, the Cowboy organization and the NFL in no small part because of coach Landry. Yet, probably no one has had more criticism . . . than what I got when I basically made the change to coach Landry and asked Jimmy Johnson to come in and be the coach. That is just in my mind an illustration of the hard decisions that sometimes you have to make doing the right thing possibly for the greater good of the team.”

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Jason Garrett on Ezekiel Elliott: We believe very strongly in him as person, player

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Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he hasn’t spoken to Ezekiel Elliott since Sunday when the star running back allegedly was involved in an altercation at a Dallas bar. Garrett would not elaborate on why he has yet to speak to Elliott, who will report to The Star with the rest of his teammates Friday for physicals.

Garrett said others in the organization have talked to Elliott, and owner Jerry Jones already confirmed he had talked to Elliott.

“I don’t want to make any comment on the situation,” Garrett said. “We’re still gathering information on what that whole situation was. Zeke’s someone we believe very strongly in as a person and as a football player, and we’re going to continue to believe in him and try to put a structure around him and all of our players to help them make great decisions and grow – grow on and off the field.”

Dallas Police are investigating an assault that left a DJ with a broken nose but have not arrested anyone and did not list Elliott as a suspect in their initial report.

Elliott has had other off-field incidents, including an ongoing NFL investigation into domestic violence allegations. Elliott was never arrested or charged in allegations made by an ex-girlfriend more than a year ago, but ESPN reported that Elliott was bracing for a short suspension from that case.

“I don’t want to speak to any specific incident, but there’s no question when something happens off the field, we have to address it, and we have to make sure that we’re on top of it, and we understand what happened and get all the information about what happened or what didn’t happen and address it accordingly,” Garrett said, “and hold ourselves and each other accountable to what the standards are. And we’ll continue to do that.”

Cornerback Nolan Carroll and linebacker Damien Wilson also face possible league discipline for recent arrests. Carroll was arrested on a DWI charge in May, and Wilson was arrested on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, accused of backing his truck into a woman and threatening a man with a rifle during a July 4 dispute with tailgaters.

“We’ve had some incidents here in the offseason that we’ve had to address,” Garrett said. “If we didn’t believe in the players who were involved in the incidents they wouldn’t be with our team. We believe in them. Doesn’t mean they’re infallible. People make mistakes. It’s our job to respond the right way, hold them accountable, hold themselves accountable. We’re still finding out about a couple incidents here the last couple of weeks and once we get that information we’ll respond accordingly. But the standards are high here. We believe we have the right kind of guys on our football team. We believe very strongly in the character of our football team, but again that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to make mistakes. It’s our job to respond the right way.”

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 13: Houston Texans

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Bill O’Brien’s Texans have been nothing if not consistent: 9-7, 9-7, 9-7. The Texans made the playoffs the past two seasons, going 1-2 in the postseason. That despite starting eight different quarterbacks in three years.

The constant turnover at quarterback hasn’t stopped the Texans from competing in the AFC South, but it has prevented them from contending for more. That’s why the Texans drafted Deshaun Watson in the first round, though it remains to be seen whether Watson will help them this season.

The Texans ranked first in total defense last season despite not having J.J. Watt for most of the year. If Watt returns to form after two back surgeries last year, the Texans rank among the best pass-rushing teams in the league with Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
But the NFL is a quarterback league, so how Tom Savage and/or Watson perform will determine just how far the Texans go.

Biggest positive change: This time last year, the Texans were excited about the offseason signing of quarterback Brock Osweiler. A year later, it’s good riddance. The Texans cut their losses with Osweiler, essentially paying for the Browns to take him off their hands. Houston gave up a second-round pick in 2018 and swapped choices in 2017, getting a fourth-round pick and giving up a sixth-rounder. Osweiler’s departure saved the Texans $16 million in cash and $10 million in salary-cap space. The Texans then traded with Cleveland on draft day, giving up the 25th overall pick as well as their first-rounder in 2018 to get Deshaun Watson. In their first 15 seasons, the Texans started 15 quarterbacks while desperately seeking a franchise signal caller. They hope Watson finally fills the help wanted ad.

Biggest negative change: The Texans lost two defensive backs in free agency. Houston, which ranked second in pass defense, saw safety Quintin Demps leave for Chicago and cornerback A.J. Bouye bolt for rival Jacksonville. The Texans wanted Bouye back, offering him $12.5 million a season. He got $13.5 million per year from the Jaguars, signing a five-year, $67.5 million deal. Now, the Texans have to replace both, though they are not void of candidates. Kevin Johnson, a first-round pick in 2015, could provide the answer as he returns from injury after missing most of last season.

Coaching thermometer: It’s only lukewarm for Bill O’Brien because the Texans have one of the most patient owners in the NFL in Bob McNair. The only two coaches he has fired were coming off 2-14 seasons. The Texans will win more than two games this season. McNair has said he will talk to O’Brien about an extension after the season as O’Brien, who is 27-21, has a contract that runs through the 2018 season. Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer (26-22) and Washington’s Jay Gruden (21-26-1) were hired the same year as O’Brien, and both have received extensions.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . J.J. Watt. The three-time defensive player of the year is living the good life. He is dating Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai. He attends award shows, appears in commercials, hangs out with Arnold Schwarzenegger and makes charity appearances. How much fun would it be to tag along for a day?

How they can prove us wrong: The Texans are where they were last year and the year before and the year before that. . . Their defense, with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, and a strong running game, with Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman, will keep the Texans in the division race. But Houston’s fate ultimately rests with the play of its quarterback(s).

Tom Savage has more injuries than career starts, but he’ll get the first shot at the job. The Texans expect Savage to be more bus driver than gunslinger. With Savage in the final year of his contract, he appears to be keeping the job warm until Deshaun Watson is ready. That could be sooner than later if Savage and the offense play like last season when the Texans finished 29th in total offense, 29th in passing and 31st in red-zone efficiency.

The rest of the division has improved, but the Texans aren’t going to relinquish the throne without a fight. They have won two consecutive AFC South titles and four of the past six. Taking the next step — winning a divisional playoff game for the first time in franchise history — appears much more difficult.

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Dante Fowler has at least 10 traffic tickets in the last 20 months

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Everyone breaks an occasional traffic law, but Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler appears to be doing more than his fair share of unsafe driving.

Fowler has at least 10 traffic tickets in the last 20 months, according to Mike Kaye of First Coast News, who has searched court records in four Florida counties dating back to December of 2015.

According to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, one of Fowler’s citations was for driving 98 mph in a 55 mph zone, and another was for careless driving, causing $1,500 of property damage.

Fowler’s dangerous driving reportedly precipitated his battery and criminal mischief arrest on Tuesday. Fowler reportedly hit a man, knocked off his glasses, stepped on the glasses and took the man’s groceries and threw them in a lake, all because the man criticized Fowler’s driving.

With two arrests and 10 traffic tickets in a year and a half, Fowler is making more of an impact off the field than on it.

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