Leighton Vander Esch had a busy pre-draft travel schedule

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Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is a man in demand as the draft approaches.

Vander Esch made 11 pre-draft visits in 14 days, a fact that he confirmed during a Friday visit to PFT Live.

He didn’t remember all of them off the top of his head. Here are the ones he was able to quickly recall: Eagles, Saints, Steelers, Ravens, Lions, Bills, Cardinals.

Vander Esch will be making one more trip: To Texas for the draft. The notorious Vander Esch bus won’t be making the trek from Riggins, Idaho to Arlington, Texas, however.

Mitchell Trubisky getting coached more than ever this offseason

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Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said that he felt like the team’s new offensive scheme was built for him even before the team started doing on-field work and the move to the field during this week’s minicamp left him feeling just as good.

Trubisky said it has been “exciting” to get to work on an offense that has “so many layers” to it and he’s getting plenty of help peeling back those layers so that everything becomes old hat by the regular season. Head coach Matt Nagy is playing a leading role, but offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and backup quarterbacks Tyler Bray and Chase Daniel are also there to help the second-year player digest the offense.

“I feel like these last three days, I’ve been coached more than I ever have because I have Coach Helfrich, Coach Ragone — who was here last year with me — Coach Nagy and then I come off when it’s not my reps and I talk to Tyler and I talk to Chase,” Trubisky said, via ESPN.com. “Just having a bunch of brilliant offensive minds around me, I’m just getting a lot of information. I’m trying to be a sponge, and it’s been a lot of fun working with those guys and learning as much as I can these last three days.”

When Trubisky was coming into the league last year, much was made of the fact that he only made 13 starts during his time at the University of North Carolina. He had less offseason time with the Bears last year and wasn’t asked to do much in a stripped-down offense, so an offseason with an overdose of coaching might have be just the thing for the quarterback even without a whole new scheme in place.

Titans met with Lamar Jackson

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The list of teams showing interest in Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is an interesting mix of those without a quarterback and those looking for a replacement for an old guy.

And, apparently, at least one team you might not expect.

According to Albert Breer of SI.com, the Titans had a private meeting with Jackson after his pro day.

The Titans could use a qualified backup behind Marcus Mariota, since he has some tendency to put himself in harm’s way. They got rid of backup Matt Cassel and signed Blaine Gabbert, which speaks to the scarcity at the position rather than the Titans’ situation in particular.

But unless they’re prepared to use the 25th pick on Jackson (if he’s even available then), it’s hard to know why they’d go to that extent. They just picked up the fifth-year option on Mariota’s rookie deal, and there’s no indication they’re anything other than satisfied with him.

Jackson has talked to a number of other teams, including the Chargers, Saints, and Ravens, along with the teams with less-established options.

Pete Carroll: Colin Kaepernick discussion is still open

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The Seahawks were set to meet with free agent Colin Kaepernick last week, but the meeting never wound up happening.

Depending on which reports you read, that was because Kaepernick wouldn’t pledge to stand during the national anthem or because the Seahawks wanted to know more about Kaepernick’s overall plans including his pursuit of a collusion grievance against the NFL. The Seahawks subsquently signed two quarterbacks, but coach Pete Carroll said Thursday that adding Stephen Morris and Austin Davis didn’t shut the door.

“The discussion and the opportunity is still open,” Carroll said on KJR, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune.

Carroll added that he hasn’t spoken to Kaepernick and that he’s “not going there” when asked how Kaepernick’s plans for the national anthem figure into the team’s thoughts. General Manager John Schneider has spoken to Kaepernick’s camp, but said “that’s what I can’t get into” when asked if the meeting was cancelled because Kaepernick refused to assure the team he wouldn’t take a knee during the anthem.

Fringe draft prospect arrested for rape

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It’s possible if not likely that Jeryl Brazil was going to go undrafted anyway.

But any hopes he’d be selected next week went away quicker than his 40 time when he was arrested for rape last weekend.

According to Tim Buckley of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, the Louisiana track star and defensive back was charged with third-degree rape.

Brazil also played at LSU before transferring. He was suspended and dismissed from the team at LSU in 2013, after three arrests. He went through a junior college before transferring to Lafayette, where he also ran track.

At the recent pro day there, he ran a 4.35-second 40, which was enough to earn some notice and possibly draw the attention of teams as an undrafted signing in only for his kick-return ability (he had a 100-yard touchdown in 2015).

But unless he’s cleared quickly, no team’s going to touch a player with that kind of background.

Friday morning one-liners

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The Bills are only scheduled for one prime-time game.

The Dolphins unveiled slight changes to their uniforms.

Patriots TE Troy Niklas had to race home after a free agent meeting with the team so that he could be at the birth of his daughter.

The Jets open the season on a big stage.

The Ravens have a lot of road games early in the year.

What’s the draft strategy at tackle for the Bengals?

Browns G.M. John Dorsey left all options on the table for the first overall pick.

Drafting safeties hasn’t gone so well for the Steelers since they selected Troy Polamalu.

The Texans open with two straight road games.

With former Colts DE Dwight Freeney retiring, it’s time to look at his Hall of Fame case.

Sifting through the Jaguars schedule.

Said Titans coach Mike Vrabel of his relationship with QB Marcus Mariota, “It takes time. You don’t want to rush anything. We don’t have to jerk the wheel to try to get to where we want to get to just today.”

Spitballing some potential draft trades that would impact the Broncos.

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes remains a favorite of Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury.

The Chargers seem likely to draft a running back at some point next week.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden will be on the road for four of the team’s first six games.

The Cowboys open the season on the road for the first time since 2012.

Victor Cruz surfaced after the Giants released WR Brandon Marshall.

The Eagles gave Sylvester Stallone his chance to pose with the Lombardi Trophy.

It’s two Thanksgiving games in a row for the Redskins.

LB Leonard Floyd wasn’t on the field at Bears minicamp.

Lions G T.J. Lang is feeling healthier than he did last year.

What offensive linemen in the draft might fit with the Packers?

The Vikings have been scheduled for four nationally televised games.

Analyzing the Falcons schedule.

Will the Panthers move to add Wake Forest S Jessie Bates in the draft?

The Saints will be making frequent national TV appearances in 2018.

Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander said he’s been opening his mouth more in the locker room.

The Cardinals continue to chart a cautious path with QB Sam Bradford.

Will the Rams add a backup to RB Todd Gurley in the draft?

The 49ers will spend most of the second half in California.

The Seahawks missed with DT Malik McDowell, but their 2017 draft can still be a success.

Falcons open to trading up (as usual) for the right guy

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Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff wouldn’t mind moving up in the draft. But at this point, that’s kind of #asexpected.

The Falcons have moved up four times in his 10 years in charge, including the blockbuster Julio Jones deal in 2011, so it’s no surprise Dimitroff has declared himself open for business.

And with a need at defensive tackle (after Dontari Poe left in free agency for Carolina), the Falcons would have to have a specific target in mind to make a move up.

The player that we are going to acquire has driven that most of the time,” Dimitroff said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Of course, we are always thinking about cost. Where our team is. Where our team’s roster is.

“What we did in ‘11 [for Jones], was not only the player, but where we were as an organization. Even last year, moving up for Takk [McKinley], we had a lot of discussions about where we were with our pass rush.”

Dimitroff said there were six to eight defensive tackles with round one or two grades this year, and if they wanted a player such as Vita Vea or Da’Ron Payne, they’d likely have to move up from 26th.

“Of course, we have to look at the compensation and be realistic about it,” Dimitroff said. “We pretty well know when we are looking to move up five, six, eight, 10 or 21 [spots], what it is going to cost us. We get our heads around that a lot sooner than on draft day.”

But that’s what he’s been doing since he got there, so it makes sense to be prepared to do it again.

Lions G.M. ready to trade down, add more picks

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At pre-draft press conferences across the league, every General Manager is considering all his options, plans to take the best player available, and is open for business.

Lions G.M. Bob Quinn, in particular, is ready to sell.

As a result of having a league-low six picks, Quinn said he was interested in trading down somewhere in the process in hopes of acquiring more picks.

“I think we’re going to kind of take it as it comes in the first round and see what’s there in the teens and evaluate what our options are,” Quinn said, via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m always in the business of getting more draft picks, if I can. … I think that’s just good for business. The more you get, the more you hit on.

“So if we can acquire more picks, that would be something I look forward to. If there’s a player I really like at [No. 20 overall], I’m going to have to go ahead and take the pick.”

In his first two drafts with the Lions, Quinn has only traded down once. That was last year in a deal with his old employer the Patriots, in which he picked up a fourth-rounder by moving down 11 spots in the third round.

In addition to the 20th overall pick, the Lions have a pick in each round besides the sixth. They threw that one away in a deal with the Rams for left tackle Greg Robinson, who couldn’t win a job and finished the year on IR.

“No, there’s no desperation,” Quinn said. “Would I like to have a sixth-round pick? Absolutely. But we don’t, so we deal with what we have. If we acquire more, great. If not, what we’ll do is get ourselves organized for the seventh round and post-draft.”

The end of this week and the first half of next is when teams actively go through possible trade scenarios, so putting out word that he’s willing to move, Quinn may speed up the process of doing a deal.

Texans-Jets, Browns-Broncos only scheduled Saturday games, two more to flex during season

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The NFL has just two games currently scheduled for Saturdays this December but a new addition to league flex scheduling procedures will add two more later int he year.

The Houston Texans will travel to face the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos will host the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 15. Both contests are Week 15 matchups.

The league also will flex two games to Saturday in Week 16 out of a possible four matchups: Baltimore at LA Chargers, Jacksonville at Miami, NY Giants at Indianapolis or Washington at Tennessee.

The NFL has had flexibility with moving games to and from the Sunday Night Football window as well as between the early and late windows on Sunday afternoons. However, the league has not made a habit of moving games to different days than they were originally scheduled.

The NFL saw a full slate of games on Christmas Eve in 2016 and had four games over two weekends on Saturdays last year. The Chicago Bears faced the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Chargers faced the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15, and the Indianapolis Colts played the Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings faced the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.

The NFL doesn’t play Saturday games while the college football regular season is ongoing, but a few games are generally scheduled on Saturdays in December. If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, then the majority of the league’s schedule is played on Saturday instead.

 

Dez Bryant working out with Odell Beckham Jr.

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Fomer Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has expressed a desire to remain in the NFC East so he can play his former team two times a year. He also seemed to indicate that the New York Giants would be among his top choices if he alone could pick a destination to play for in 2018.

So when Bryant posted video to his instagram account on Thursday working out with Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., it only furthers the idea that the Giants are Bryant’s prime destination of choice.

According to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com, Bryant has been working out the last several days with Beckham’s trainer, Jamal Liggin.

The Giants release of Brandon Marshall could theoretically open up the door to the possibility of Bryant joining Beckham and Sterling Shepard. However, the Giants have less than $5 million in available cap space, per NFLPA records, and whether they want to invest any of that in another veteran receiver while Beckham awaits a payday of his own is uncertain.

The full Eric Kendricks breakdown

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Earlier this week, the Vikings signed linebacker Eric Kendricks. Here’s a full breakdown of his deal, which puts him under contract through 2023.

1. Signing bonus: $10.5 million.

2. 2018 base salary: $1.138 million, fully guaranteed.

3. 2019 base salary: $4.15 million, guaranteed for injury only at signing, and fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster the third day of the 2019 league year.

4. 2020 base salary: $7.15 million, guaranteed for injury only at signing, and fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster the third day of the 2020 league year.

5. 2021 base salary: $8.15 million.

6. 2022 base salary: $9.15 million.

7. 2023 base salary: $9.15 million.

8. Annual per-game roster bonuses of $250,000, for 2019 through 2023.

9. Annual workout bonuses of $100,000, for 2019 through 2023.

The total value of the six-year deal is $51.138 million, with $50 million in new money over the five new years of the deal. His salary for 2018 doesn’t change, but he earns $10.5 million from the get-go.

The deal puts Kendricks behind only Luke Kuechly, Alec Ogletree, and Bobby Wagner as the highest-paid inside linebackers in the NFL.

Reports: Long-time Patriots play-by-play voice Gil Santos dies on 78th birthday

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Gil Santos, who spent 36 seasons as the play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots, died Thursday on his 78th birthday, according to multiple reports.

Santos retired as the team’s broadcaster at the conclusion of the 2012 season. He called Patriots games on WBZ-AM from 1966 to 1980. He returned to the role in 1991 when the team’s broadcast rights returned to WBZ. He ultimately called 759 Patriots games in his career before deferring to Bob Socci upon the end of New England’s AFC Championship loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January 2013.

In addition to calling Patriots games, Santos worked games for the Boston Celtics, Boston Breakers (USFL), Providence basketball, Penn State football and Boston College football. He also served over 33 years anchoring WBZ’s morning sports.

Report: Earl Thomas won’t holdout

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Seahawks safety Earl Thomas will not holdout. That’s the word from General Manager John Schneider at his charity event Thursday night, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reports.

Schneider said he was told by Thomas’ representatives at the scouting combine that Thomas will show up even without a new deal. Schneider added he has not talked to them since, but that’s not unusual.

Thomas, who threatened a holdout earlier this offseaseon in the absence of a new contract, opted to skip the start of the team’s offseason workouts.

Talk of a Thomas trade has been a storyline the entire offseason, but coach Pete Carroll said Thursday the Seahawks were “counting on” Thomas this season.

Dolphins close season with five games against playoff teams from last year

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Every team wants a good start, but the Dolphins probably should really, really, really, really, really want a good start because of their closing schedule.

No team got a harder December schedule than Miami. At least on paper.

The Dolphins play five December games against playoff teams from a year ago. The only good news is three of those games are at home and another is indoors.

Miami hosts Buffalo on December 2 and New England on December 9. It travels to Minnesota on December 16 before returning home to face Jacksonville on December 23. It closes the season at Buffalo on December 30.

New England, Minnesota and Jacksonville all reached the conference championship game last season.

Things, of course, change season to season, and you never know, but the Dolphins’ December schedule appears challenging as we sit here today.

Mahomes gets baptism by fire, and that could be a good thing for the Chiefs

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The Kansas City Chiefs break in a new starting quarterback this year, and Patrick Mahomes will be getting a baptism by fire.

Four of his first six games will be played on the road, and all will feature still challenges against potentially contending teams and/or in tough places to play: at Chargers, at Steelers, vs. 49ers, at Broncos, vs. Jaguars, at Patriots.

Before assuming this will automatically result in Mahomes struggling, keep in mind that defenses don’t yet know how coach Andy Reid is using Mahomes, and they’ll need at least four or five editions of game film in order to fully begin cracking the code. So since the Chiefs have to play those six games anyway, it’s better to play tough games early, before defenses figure out what he does well and scheme to take it away.

While the schedule as a whole won’t be a cakewalk for the Chiefs or Mahomes, loading up with tough games early can be a good thing for team and quarterback. Some of the easier spots (Bengals in Week Seven, Broncos at home in Week Eight, Browns in Week Nine, Cardinals in Week 10) will come during the time when defenses may be better equipped to throw plenty of roadblocks in Mahomes’ path.