Dale Earnhardt Jr. could join the new Panthers’ ownership group

Getty Images

Recently-retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a lifelong Washington fan. He may eventually have conflicting loyalties when his favorite team plays the Panthers.

Via David Newton of ESPN.com, Earnhardt told the Associated Press that he has spoken with Speedway Motorsports Inc. president and COO Marcus Smith about possibly joining a group that would attempt to buy the team.

Earnhardt made the disclosure when asked by the AP whether he had involvement with a potential ownership group including Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates. The Sabates group is separate from the group that the Smith family potentially would be organizing.

“I wouldn’t have the kind of money where I would move the needle too much, but it would be something to have a lot of pride in, and a good Charlotte NFL team is good for the city of Charlotte,” Earnhardt said. “I wish them success because of what it does for our community, not only from a pride standpoint but [from] an economical standpoint. I wouldn’t be a big player, and it wouldn’t be an investment that would really create a big change in my life. But I certainly would love to be supportive to the team and the success of the team to the community. That means a lot to me.”

An NFL ownership group may have up to 24 members, and based on his own quote its clear Earnhardt wouldn’t own much of the team.

The Smith family quickly emerged as a possible purchaser of the team that owner Jerry Richardson is now attempting to sell. It’s unclear whether the Smith actually will make a bid for the franchise. Sabates has suggested that the Smith family could join the Sabates group in making a unified bid.

Falcons interviewing QBs coaches with Steve Sarkisian expected back as coordinator

Getty Images

The Falcons need a quarterbacks coach, but they have an offensive coordinator.

If Atlanta coach Dan Quinn didn’t put to rest speculation about Steve Sarkisian’s job security last week when he said there was “zero percent” chance the offensive coordinator would leave the Falcons, Quinn is expected to confirm Sarkisian’s return in a press conference Wednesday, via Vaughan McClure of ESPN.

The Falcons finished eighth in total offense, 15th in scoring and 23rd in red-zone scoring, but players have continued to support Sarkisian.

I love Sark,” running back Devonta Freeman told McClure. “I love what he stands for as a human. I love how aggressive he is as a coach. I wouldn’t want to do it with nobody else. He’s one of the best guys I’ve been around.”

Matt Ryan will get a new position coach, though, with Bush Hamdan leaving to become offensive coordinator at the University of Washington. The Falcons interviewed Jedd Fisch for the job, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Fisch, 41, last served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at UCLA and became interim head coach after Jim Mora was fired. His resume includes stints with the Texans, Ravens, Broncos, Seahawks and Jaguars.

Sean Payton not talking about Drew Brees’ potential return, yet

Getty Images

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has made it clear, on multiple occasions since Sunday, that he intends to extend his 12-year with the team to a beignet baker’s dozen. Coach Sean Payton wasn’t willing to be similarly candid during his end-of-season press conference.

“Not right now,” Payton said when asked whether he would comment on the process relating to the future Hall of Famer’s return via a new contract. “So no. Politely, no.”

Another reporter tried to get a blanket assurance that, whatever the details, Brees will be back: “Is there no question in your mind that you want Drew back as your quarterback?”

“Like I just finished saying. I’ll say it to you, ‘No.’ We’ll get to you when it’s time, and I’m sure that we’ll go through the process,” Payton said. “But today’s not the time.”

Surely, the Saints want to keep Brees. But they also need to be thinking about a not-too-distant future without him.

In theory, the Saints could pursue and sign a free-agent quarterback from another team, whether it’s Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins or Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who just beat the Saints (if you haven’t heard).

Whatever they do in 2018, $18 million will count against the cap in Brees’ name. They’ll need a starting quarterback who doesn’t add dramatically to that number.

Seahawks fire Kris Richard, hire Ken Norton Jr.

AP

The Seahawks have officially announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari.

Word broke on Monday that Norton is returning to the Seahawks to run the defense. He had taken a job as the 49ers linebackers coach last week, but was let out of his contract to rejoin head coach Pete Carroll’s staff. Norton was Seattle’s linebackers coach for five years before becoming the Raiders defensive coordinator in 2015.

Along with confirmation of that move came an announcement that the Seahawks fired their previous defensive coordinator Kris Richard. Richard, who moved into that job when Dan Quinn became the Falcons head coach in 2015, interviewed for the Colts head coaching job after the end of the regular season and seems likely to land a job somewhere fairly quickly.

The additions of Schottenheimer, who replaces Darrell Bevell, and Solari, who replaces Cable, were also previously reported.

The Seahawks also announced that they’ve fired linebackers coach/assistant head coach Michael Barrow. Barrow was hired in 2015 and added the assistant head coach title last season.

Tuesday’s PFT PM, Five-Down Territory edition

PFT PM

If you haven’t heard (in other words, if you’ve been ignoring the various posts promoting it), there’s a PFT PM podcast, a four-or-five-times-per-week afternoon-drive look at NFL news and analysis.

Also, I answer plenty of Twitter questions, typically without looking at them in advance, a handy excuse for when the answers suck.

Hopefully, today’s episode doesn’t. Topics include the reported (by PFT) effort by Pittsburgh’s limited partners to make a run at changing coaches, whether Ben Roethlisberger truly wants Todd Haley back with the Steelers, Drew Brees‘ future in New Orleans, Pat Shurmur’s prospects in New York, the Jets’ decision to cut ticket prices, and more.

Listen below, if you want. Or if you don’t, but simply don’t have anything better to do.

Thomas Morstead plays through rib injury, impressing Vikings fans

Getty Images

Thomas Morstead tore cartilage in his ribs while making a tackle early in the first quarter. The Saints punter was in obvious pain on his final three punts, though he had kicks of 56 and 54 yards after the injury and a pain-killing injection.

“It was pretty simple in my mind: ‘This is either gonna be a really good punt or a really bad punt. Either way it’s gonna hurt like hell,'” Morstead said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN. “So I might as well try to make it as good as I could.

“My ego was shot a little bit when they said my ribs weren’t broken, which would have sounded cooler. But the doc was like, ‘Hey, don’t worry. It hurts just as bad.’”

Vikings fans apparently were impressed with Morstead’s gutsy performance. He said his “What You Give Will Grow” foundation received hundreds of donations from Minnesota.

“It’s very cool,” said Morstead, who joked, “I wish they were all bitter today because we had won. But it’s nice to see people doing nice things.”

Police say Jeremy Lane admitted smoking pot before DUI arrest

Getty Images

Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane complained on Twitter after his recent arrest for driving under the influence, saying that his breathalyzer result showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.03. But alcohol was not the only substance police say Lane was under the influence of.

The police report says Lane’s car smelled of marijuana and Lane admitted he had been smoking marijuana three hours before he was pulled over, according to TMZ.

“This time I was more high than anything,” Lane said, according to TMZ.

Although marijuana is legal in Washington State, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal. Washington law makes clear that a driver can be arrested for DUI if “He or she is found to be driving a vehicle under the influence or affected by alcohol, any drug, or a combination of alcohol and drugs, regardless of the concentration of alcohol in their breath or blood.”

Lane faces a potential suspension from the NFL for the arrest. He may also be released by the Seahawks, who tried to trade him during the season.

Jury selection begins in case involving death of Joe McKnight

Getty Images

The trial soon will begin in the case arising from the death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight. Jury selection started Tuesday in the prosecution of 55-year-old Ronald Gasser, who shot and killed McKnight in December 2016.

Gasser is expected to claim self-defense, with his lawyers characterizing McKnight as the aggressor.

The second-degree murder charge would carry a punishment of life in prison, if he’s convicted.

As explained by the Associated Press, Gasser’s lawyers have said McKnight attempted to enter Gasser’s car through the passenger window, and that Gasser didn’t flee the scene after the shooting. Gasser shot McKnight three times.

McKnight, a star high-school player in Louisiana, played college football at USC before spending three seasons with the Jets and one with the Chiefs.

Texans’ interviews for DBs job includes Darren Perry

Getty Images

The Texans have interviewed two assistants for their vacant defensive backs job and have offensive assistant Pat O’Hara in Chicago today talking to the Bears about becoming their quarterbacks coach, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports.

Houston is seeking to replace John Butler, who was fired as defensive backs coach after the season.

The Texans interviewed their own assistant defensive backs coach, Anthony Midget, who was responsible for the safeties last season. Packers safeties coach Darren Perry is in Houston today interviewing for the job.

Perry played in the NFL for nine seasons before moving into coaching. He has spent time in Cincinnati, Oakland and Pittsburgh besides Green Bay.

He was one of three Green Bay assistants who interviewed for the Packers’ defensive coordinator job that went to Mike Pettine.

The Texans might have to replace O’Hara, who worked with the quarterbacks in Houston, but hope to keep him.

Delanie Walker in, Travis Kelce out for Pro Bowl

Getty Images

The Pro Bowl replacement parade continued on Tuesday with a change at tight end on the AFC roster.

Delanie Walker of the Titans will head to Orlando for the January 28 exhibition game. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who was voted into the game as a starter, withdrew due to an injury.

Rob Gronkowski was the other tight end initially selected for the AFC roster, so there will be a need for another replacement if the Patriots beat the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game.

Walker had 74 catches for 807 receiving yards and three touchdowns during the 2017 season. He led the Titans in both receptions and receiving yards while going over 5,000 career receiving yards before the year was out.

Punter Brett Kern, tackle Taylor Lewan and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey are the other Titans on the team.

Cameron Heyward joins AFC Pro Bowl squad

Getty Images

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will have another one of his players on the AFC Pro Bowl squad later this month.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward has been added to the team. Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack withdrew from the team with an injury.

Heyward was one of seven players selected for the Associated Press All-Pro first team without initially being part of the Pro Bowl festivities. He set a career high with 12 sacks during the regular season and also had 45 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery during the 2017 season.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, tackle Antonio Villanueva, guard David DeCastro, center Maurkice Pouncey, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and kicker Chris Boswell are the other Steelers currently set to join their coach and Heyward in Orlando. Linebacker Ryan Shazier was selected for the game, but will not play due to the spinal injury he suffered last month.

Tony Romo: You always miss playing “a little bit”

Getty Images

Tony Romo never made an NFC Championship Game with the Cowboys, but he will work the AFC Championship Game in his first season with CBS.

Romo, 37, could have continued his career with a team other than the Cowboys in the offseason, but he opted to begin a second career as an analyst. He admitted Tuesday he missed playing.

“You always miss it a little bit,” Romo said on a conference call, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think it’s just human nature when you do something for whatever, 20 years of your life, you’re going to miss parts of it.

“I know I didn’t miss up waking up on Mondays, taking your time getting out of bed. That was a little easier when the kids run and jump on your bed, get yourself up and going.”

Romo directed the Cowboys to the playoffs four times in his career as the starter. He lost in the divisional round three times and in the wild-card round once. He was Dak Prescott‘s backup last season when the Packers upset the Cowboys in the divisional round.

Steelers sign Mike Hilton to one-year extension

Getty Images

Cornerback Mike Hilton moved into a regular role as the Steelers’ nickel cornerback during the 2017 season and the team didn’t wait to get him under contract for the 2018 season.

Hilton was set to be an exclusive rights free agent, which meant he’d only actually become a free agent if the team chose not to offer him a contract. The Steelers did make the offer and announced on Tuesday that the deal is done.

Hilton played just over 58 percent of the defensive snaps for Pittsburgh and ended the year with 64 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Three of those sacks came in the team’s 34-6 Christmas Day win against the Texans.

The Steelers signed two other exclusive rights free agents — tight end Xavier Grimble and long snapper Kameron Canaday — on Monday.

Drew Brees: “I think we have a great window of opportunity”

Getty Images

Drew Brees was one play from his third career NFC Championship Game. Now, it starts all over again to try to get back.

Was that the best last chance for the Saints quarterback? He has one Super Bowl ring but covets another.

Brees, who turned 39 on Monday, said he believes the window remains open for him and for the Saints.

“The sting of that loss is still pretty fresh for us all, and I know we would all say that we thought we’d still be playing right now,” Brees said Tuesday, via Mike Triplett of ESPN. “But I think as we look back at the season and reflect, we have a lot to be proud of. I feel like we have a great window of opportunity [for a Super Bowl]. I’ve been a part of talented teams in the past throughout my career, though, that have not lived up to expectations. I’ve also been a part of teams that were just gutsy and gritty, and surpassed expectations.

“So the bottom line is that success is dependent upon your willingness to work and the way that guys care about each other and the sense of urgency. So while I think we do have a talented team, I know that each year you have to go out and prove it.”

Brees has committed to a return to the Saints. He becomes a free agent in the offseason but said he doesn’t plan to test free agency and will re-sign with the Saints.

Bengals long snapper Clark Harris selected for Pro Bowl

Getty Images

The Steelers coaching staff selected Bengals long snapper Clark Harris to represent the AFC at that position. Unlike other positions, the long snappers are selected by the Pro Bowl coaching staffs.

Harris announced his selection on Twitter and thanked the Steelers’ coaching staff for his first Pro Bowl appearance.

The nine-year veteran played in all 16 games this season. He has no botched snaps in his 136-game career.

In the middle of the season, the Bengals signed Harris to a one-year contract extension through 2018.