Le’Veon Bell may be clearing a path to free agency in 2018

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Since the deadline for signing Le'Veon Bell to a long-term deal expired one month and one day ago, the Steelers periodically have tried to make Bell look greedy and unreasonable, from leaking some (but not enough) details about their last, best offer to periodically calling him out for not accepting the one-year franchise tender and showing up for camp to, most recently, making it known that the Steelers had a deal in place with Bell’s agent, but that Bell refused to sign it.

Some may say Bell is behaving stupidly. I’m more inclined to think he’s a genius. Because his tactics, taken together, suggest that the Steelers won’t be tagging him again in 2018.

Why would they, after everything that has happened this year? He won’t show up for the offseason program, he won’t take a long-term deal, he won’t show up for training camp, and he’ll wait until (possibly) the last possible minute to report and still get every penny of the tender. With the tender moving to $14.5 million next year (a 20-percent raise over his current number), the Steelers may not be inclined to do the dance again.

Advantage, Bell. He gets $12.1 million for four months of work and then he gets to hit the open market unfettered in 2018. Unless the Steelers are willing to do once again a dance that has so clearly irritated them in 2017, especially since Bell is one of the rare guys who will push back against the team’s habit of making the rules and having the players blindly comply.

Simms: Bortles “was not put on earth to throw the football”

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Chris Simms officially joins PFT Live on Monday. He offered a preview of the candor he’ll be bringing to the show during a Friday morning phone call. The target was embattled Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.

“The man was not put on earth to throw the football,” Simms said. “He is something that I would call a made-up QB. . . . He was a guy that in seventh or eighth grade they said, ‘You’re big, you’re strong, you’re fast, let’s put you at QB; you look like a franchise QB,’ and then it kind of stuck.”

It stuck all the way through college and the first round of the draft, where he was the third overall pick. It lasted into early May, when the Jaguars picked up his $19 million option for 2018.

Now, in one ugly misfire he seemed to carefully aim like a half-drunk teenager playing darts for the first time, the perception has taken root that Bortles isn’t what we’d been led to believe he is for more than four years.

Forty years ago, he might have gotten another season or two to figure it out. Now, three seasons are more than most get, and if a guy doesn’t get it by then he’s inevitably going to get a one-way ticket to Anywhere Else, U.S.A.

Tune in Monday morning at 7:00 a.m. ET to NBCSN to hear more candor from Simms. It’ll be nice to have someone other than me making people upset.

Report: Le’Veon Bell rejected July offer after agent agreed to terms

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After the July 17 deadline to sign players with franchise tags to multi-year deals passed, information about the Steelers’ final offer to Bell leaked out.

The team reportedly offered Bell a five-year deal with an annual average above the $12.1 million he’s set to make this season with some $30 million paid out over the first two years of that deal. Bell made it clear that the offer wasn’t to his liking by saying he’s “not in a rush” to sign a deal worth less than he feels he’s worth.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday that information didn’t make it to the people negotiating the deal until after they thought they’d agreed on a deal. Per Bouchette, the Steelers “thought they came to terms with [Bell’s] agent on a five-year deal” and were “baffled” when Bell rejected it with the deadline about to pass.

As with the initial leak of terms, this bit of information appears to be designed to paint the team as having been reasonable in negotiations while Bell was unwilling to commit to a deal. That fits with the general tone from the team of late about Bell hurting himself by not reporting to camp despite being under no obligation to do so.

It’s obvious that any deal wasn’t going to happen unless Bell wanted it and we already knew he wasn’t on the same page with the team, so there’s little about the report that changes the current landscape in Pittsburgh. Bell hasn’t signed his tag or reported to camp and the only alteration to the tag possible at this point would be a revised one-year agreement that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Should the recent rhetoric from the team and the leaks rub Bell the wrong way, a deal might not be in the cards after the season either.

Jaguars set to work out Dan Carpenter

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The Jaguars are looking for someone to lead their offense and they may also be in the market for a new kicker.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Jags will work out Dan Carpenter as a possible competitor for the job currently held by Jason Myers. Myers missed a field goal and an extra point on Thursday night after opening the preseason with two missed field goals against the Patriots.

Carpenter was released by the Bills in March after four seasons with the team. He was 19-of-25 on field goals and 40-of-45 on extra points last season. Carpenter, who also spent five years with the Dolphins, has made 84 percent of his field goal attempts over the course of his career.

Myers is 53-of-64 on field goals and 61-of-71 on extra points over two years in Jacksonville.

Blake Bortles’ contract may force Jaguars to go with Chad Henne

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Jaguars coach Doug Marrone says there’s now a competition at quarterback between incumbent starter Blake Bortles and veteran backup Chad Henne. But if the two are close enough to be in competition at all, it’s hard to imagine how the Jaguars could justify giving the job to Bortles.

That’s because Bortles’ contract contains a $19 million salary in 2018, which is guaranteed if Bortles suffers an injury that prevents him from passing a physical next year. In other words, every play the Jaguars put Bortles on the field, they’re risking putting themselves on the hook for a $19 million salary next year.

That would be a risk worth taking if Bortles had done anything to justify his selection as the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. But if Bortles had done anything to justify his lofty draft status, he wouldn’t be competing with Henne heading into his fourth season.

Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times Union doesn’t even believe that Marrone means it when he says it’s an open competition. In O’Halloran’s view, the competition is over and Henne has won. O’Halloran even sees the Jaguars cutting Bortles before the season so they don’t have to risk him getting hurt this year and putting them on the hook for his $19 million salary next year.

Marrone declared himself “not happy with the performance” of either quarterback after Thursday night’s preseason game, and O’Halloran believes that’s more an indication that Marrone wishes Henne had played better than anything else: If the Jaguars are moving on from Bortles, then all they really want to see from the quarterbacks is for Henne to look competent. Henne went just 6-for-10 for 44 yards, and the Jaguars didn’t score their first points until third-stringer Brandon Allen was in the game.

The Jaguars may already regret picking up Bortles’ fifth-year option. If that’s the case, the only way out of it is to cut him before he gets hurt.

Bears sign veteran linebacker Kelvin Sheppard

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Kelvin Sheppard had been gauging his market lately, and now he has a new home.

The Bears announced they had signed the veteran linebacker, and waived rookie linebacker Hendrick Ekpe to make room for him on the roster.

Sheppard worked out for the Dolphins earlier this week, but he didn’t end up making a return to South Florida.

He played there in 2014 and 2015, and spent last year with the Giants. He’s also spent time with the Colts and Bills.

Ravens sign Jeremy Zuttah

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Center Jeremy Zuttah is back in Baltimore.

The Ravens traded Zuttah to the 49ers earlier this year, but Zuttah was cut by the 49ers a little more than a week ago and speculation quickly started about a return to Baltimore. Zuttah, who went to the Pro Bowl last year, visited the Colts as well, but the Ravens announced on Friday that he’s back with the club.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports it is a two-year deal worth $4 million with another $2 million available based on playing time. Wide receiver Kenny Bell was waived/injured in a corresponding move.

Zuttah’s arrival gives the Ravens a player familiar with their offense at a moment when they need help on the offensive line. Projected left guard Alex Lewis is out for the year and John Urschel, who was competing to start at center, retired earlier this summer.

Ryan Jensen had been working at center, but it seems likely that he’ll now move to guard and compete with James Hurst for the job that Lewis was slated to fill.

The Colts, meanwhile, will have to look elsewhere for center help with Ryan Kelly having foot surgery that will keep him out for the start of the regular season.

John Lynch regrets calling anthem protests “divisive”

AP

John Lynch is following the footsteps of Hue Jackson, with those footsteps backpedaling from their first round of remarks about national anthem protests.

With a chance to reflect and to see Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long standing together last night, the 49ers General Manager now wishes he’d have chosen his words more carefully, saying he regretted calling protests “divisive.”

“If I could take one thing back, I would have changed that word,” Lynch said during an interview on KNBR, via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “Because of the negative connotation. But I was really trying to make the point that our game should be a beacon for what can be.”

Referring to Long standing with his arm around the shoulders of Jenkins, who was raising a fist, last night, Lynch said the visual served as a reminder of the game’s opportunity to bring diverse groups of people together.

“I’m glad you brought this up because I’m having, for the last couple of days, a lot of thought, a lot of waking up in the middle of the night thinking about what I said and how people perceive that,” Lynch said. “You know, when I saw that picture of Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins, I think that’s exactly what I was speaking to and what I think is so great about football, of how I think our society can be and how it should be — of people coming together.”

Lynch said he was in San Diego with his family when the violence in Charlottesville, Va. was unfolding last weekend, and it made for a difficult conversation.

“When you’re talking to your 10 year old and you’re trying to explain what’s going on — it’s sad, it’s disgusting, it’s unbelievable that these things still exist,” Lynch said. “So I want to go a step further [and say] not only do I respect, but I understand the motivations of these players that are trying to do something about it. I want to be very clear with that, that’s where my heart is.”

Jackson also walked back his initial comments that he didn’t want his Browns players to protest, perhaps realizing that the chance to make a statement about current events might possibly be more important than any distraction from the great and important game of football.

Giants swap in two healthy receivers for injured ones

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The top of the Giants’ depth chart at wide receiver remains unchanged on Friday, but the bottom looks a little different.

The team announced that they have signed wideouts Ed Eagan and Canaan Severin to the 90-man roster. Wideouts Kevin Snead and Keeon Johnson were both waived/injured in corresponding moves.

The Giants got an up-close look at Severin last week when he caught two passes for 24 yards for the Steelers in a preseason game at MetLife Stadium. He spent last season on Pittsburgh’s injured reserve and was dropped by the Steelers on Monday to make room for a linebacker.

Eagan spent time with the Cowboys, Bills and Browns, but never saw any regular season action.

Cardinals drop a wide receiver, sign a linebacker

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Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said this week that he is not happy with the team’s wide receiver group and one member of it lost his job on Friday.

The team announced that they have waived wide receiver Marquis Bundy and signed linebacker Ryan Langford to take his place on the 90-man roster.

Bundy signed with the team as an undrafted free agent last year and spent most of the season on the practice squad before getting promoted to the active roster in November. He did not play in any games and had five catches for 73 yards in a pair of appearances this preseason.

Langford spent time with the Texans last summer before being cut as the team dropped down to 53 players.

The other McCaffrey is looking good in Green Bay

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Packers wide receiver Max McCaffrey has often been known as the “other” McCaffrey, overshadowed by his father, longtime Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, and his little brother, Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. But Max is taking steps toward making a name for himself in Green Bay.

“Max [has] been making a lot of plays in training camp; every day in practice he’s making plays,” Aaron Rodgers told the Wisconsin State Journal.

McCaffrey was glad to hear his quarterback likes what he’s doing.

“I obviously appreciate that,” McCaffrey said. “Obviously coming from Aaron, that’s a huge compliment. I definitely do appreciate that.”

McCaffrey caught three passes for 60 yards in the Packers’ first preseason game, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to make the 53-man roster. In fact, given that the Packers’ Top 6 wide receivers from last year are all still on the roster, and that the Packers drafted two wide receivers this year, McCaffrey would still have to be considered a long shot. But he’s at least pushing for a roster spot with three more preseason games to go.

Unable to get cleared to play, Zach Orr is retiring

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Linebacker Zach Orr announced his retirement early in the offseason due to a neck condition, but reversed course in June and said he hoped to continue playing because he felt it might not be as bad as originally feared.

Orr is reversing course again. In a piece he wrote for The Players Tribune, Orr says he spoke to doctors who thought he could continue playing but failed to get cleared to return by Ravens doctors — Orr wasn’t tendered as a restricted free agent by the team after his initial retirement announcement — before formally announcing his plans to keep playing.

He visited six teams and spoke to 11 others and none of them would give the green light for a return to the field and some teams believed his condition leaves him at an elevated risk of a spinal cord injury. As a result, he’s decided to again announce his retirement.

“Today, I’m officially retiring from professional football … again,” Orr wrote. “And I’m even more at peace this time around because the teams have spoken. If there was any way I could come back, I would. Now, I know that’s not possible.”

Orr played three years for the Ravens and led the team in tackles while making 15 starts during the 2016 season.

Doug Pederson: “Important” for Derek Barnett to get work with first team

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Cornerback Ronald Darby wasn’t the only new addition to the Eagles defense to impress coach Doug Pederson in Thursday night’s game against the Bills.

First-round pick Derek Barnett had his third sack of the preseason when he dropped Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman in the third quarter of the game and he showed an ability to get pressure from both sides of the line. His productivity through his first two NFL games led to a question for Pederson about whether Barnett will be getting time with the first team.

“It’s important,” Pederson said. “Obviously, better tackles, better competition is a sign of where you are in your development process. But you could see how quick he is off the ball. You could see how well he bends. There’s just a relentless finish. He plays to the whistle, and that’s exciting. So hopefully these next couple weeks, you know, with Miami coming up, we’ll give him a chance to roll in there with the first unit again and just continue to watch him grow.”

The Eagles have experienced options at defensive end in Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Chris Long, but a good showing from Barnett against the Dolphins will make it likelier that youth will be served up front in Philly this season.

Kaepernick makes plenty of sense for Jacksonville

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Forget about last year’s anthem protests, which Colin Kaepernick has made clear through intermediaries he won’t repeat. Focus only on his skills, and how they would fit with a team that hopes build an offense around running the football.

That’s what the Jaguars want to do. And Kaepernick, who averaged 6.8 yards per attempt a year ago, allows them to do that. (On PFT Live, Josh Norris referred to Kaepernick as a fantasy-football “cheat code,” given his ability to consistently pick up extra points with his legs.)

Yes, plenty of work would have to happen on the fly to adapt the offense to Kaepernick, with the zone read and other Kaepernick-friendly plays being added and other plays being scrapped. Coach Doug Marrone doesn’t seem to care about that, if it means getting him someone who will lead the offense. Given Kaepernick’s accomplishments and the career accomplishments of Blake Bortles and Chad Henne combined, isn’t Kaepernick the obvious choice?

Before assessing whether he’d be the right choice, it’s important to know who’d be making it. Marrone made it clear last night that, when it comes to options not on the roster, his hands are tied. A year ago, G.M. Dave Caldwell would have been the one making the call, without question. Now, it appears that executive V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin is running the show.

Would Coughlin want Kaepernick? Before the draft, few would have expected Coughlin to provide a second chance to troubled Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook, but Coughlin did. So maybe he’d give a second chance to a guy who shouldn’t need one. Especially since that could be the team’s best chance to win games in 2017.

If the Jaguars want Kaepernick, they may need to move quickly. For the Ravens, Ryan Mallett‘s latest preseason performance could be the thing that gets Baltimore to finally close the deal with Kaepernick.

Ron Rivera not happy with “terrible” day from his offense

AP

Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw an entire season derailed by injuries in 2016, when the Panthers became a 6-10 non-factor.

So just because a few key players were on the sidelines yesterday, he wanted to make sure his players knew he wasn’t satisfied with the performance of his offense during yesterday’s joint workouts with the Titans.

“Yesterday there were some really good things and today there were some things that were terrible,” Rivera said, via Bill Voth of the team’s official website. “We can’t have that. If we expect to win football games, we can’t do the things that we did today.”

Granted, quarterback Cam Newton was only a partial participant, and Rivera admitted he was “rusty” as he comes back from shoulder surgery. The Panthers were also without center Ryan Kalil, tight end Greg Olsen, and running back Jonathan Stewart for the work against the Titans.

But Rivera was salty about dropped passes and penalties, so he didn’t want to make excuses.

“Those are guys that you count on to come out on the football field and help create that cohesiveness,” Rivera said of the veterans getting days off. “Not having them out on the football field is huge. . . .

“The guys that dropped the balls were guys that had opportunities. They were good balls that got dropped. When the ball hits you in the hand, you’ve got to catch it. If the guy’s in front of you, you’ve got to block him. You know? Those are things that we didn’t do well today, and because of it, we didn’t look very good.”

The Panthers are in a delicate position this preseason, trying to implement some offensive wrinkles while their quarterback is on the mend. At the same time, they have a talented veteran roster, but it’s a bit on the top-heavy side. That means they want to develop some depth just in case their luck runs like last year (when injuries decimated their offensive line), but the results at the moment aren’t what Rivera wants to see.