Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones won’t need offseason surgeries

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Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman was uncertain if he’d need surgery to address a sprained MCL and PCL in his knee after the team’s season came to an end last Saturday in Philadelphia.

According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Thursday that neither Freeman or wide receiver Julio Jones would need surgeries to address their various injuries this offseason.

Jones pulled out of the Pro Bowl due to injury. He had dealt with a myriad of ailments throughout the season and had been limited late in the year with ankle and rib injuries.

Freeman was injured in Atlanta’s finale regular season game against the Carolina Panthers but still played in both of Atlanta’s playoff games against the Eagles and Los Angeles Rams.

Don Martindale eager for second chance as defensive coordinator with Ravens

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Don Martindale’s only prior experience as a defensive coordinator of an NFL defense as a complete disaster.

As coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 2010, Martindale’s defense was the worst in the league in both yards and points allowed per game. The Broncos allowed an average of 390.8 yards per game and 29.4 in his only season as defensive coordinator under head coach Josh McDaniels.

But just as McDaniels appears set to get his second chance to lead a team as head coach, Martindale will get his second chance to run a defense after being promoted to defensive coordinator by the Baltimore Ravens. It’s an opportunity he’s thrilled to have.

Without a doubt,” Martindale said, via David Ginsburg of the Associated Press. “My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can’t wait.”

Martindale joined the Ravens coaching staff in 2012 and has served as the team’s linebackers coach for the last five seasons under John Harbaugh. He will be replacing Dean Pees, who retired after the season. Martindale believes his experience in Denver taught him some things he can use to be more effective in the role this time around.

“I think personality-wise, and just calls, there’s going to be some things that are the same (as under Pees). And then there are going to be sometimes where I’m going to pressure more,” Martindale said. “I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That’s some of the things I’ve learned from the past.”

Jon Gruden knew it was time to return when he joined Ring of Honor in Tampa

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For years, Raiders coach Jon Gruden seemed destined to return to coaching. So how did he know now was the time to return?

“You know, we had an event, Mike, in Tampa,” Gruden said during a recent visit to PFT Live. “We had a Monday night game in Tampa, and there was a Ring of Honor event that I was a part of down on the field, and I got to be around 60 or 70 of my ex-players in Tampa. It just hit me like a brick. I just missed being around those guys, I missed being around that coaching environment, and I got all choked up emotionally. I remember driving home that night thinking, ‘I gotta get back on the field, I just wanna be a part of a team again, and see if I can help somebody. So I think that was the signature moment for me really.”

Of course, he chose not to re-join the Buccaneers but to return to the Raiders, and the fact that the Raiders would soon be leaving Oakland was a factor for him.

“It really was,” Gruden said, “it really was. I love football, you know me, the one thing no one has argued about with me is I love football, love the NFL, and I’m really emotional about that. These people in Oakland, they supported me as an unknown nobody. When I was 34 years old they got behind me, they got behind the Raider football team, and they helped me. And I feel the urgency to come back here and do everything within my power to try to deliver the best possible football for them for the next two years before they move to Vegas. It was very important.”

Those nine years in broadcasting has helped his return to coaching in ways he wouldn’t have realized.

“I remember when I was a coach for the Raiders in 1998,” Gruden said. “I was always wondering what was Marty Schottenheimer doing on the practice field. I wonder what their weight room looks like. I wonder what their practice facility’s like. I wonder what’s going on in Kansas City. And over the last several years I’ve had a chance to sit down and talk to the head coach, see their training rooms, see their facilities, watch them practice. So it has made me certainly a lot more well-rounded. I’ve had a chance to see things I never got to see before when I was a head coach.”

Gruden now gets to use those things in an effort to take the Raiders back to the Super Bowl, for the first time since they faced Gruden and the Bucs 15 years ago.

Terence Newman not ready to call his best chance at a ring his last chance at a ring

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Vikings cornerback Terence Newman has played 15 NFL seasons. This is as close as he’s come in his quest for a Super Bowl ring.

Newman, 39, could become one of the rare players to walk off into the sunset with a title.

But Newman isn’t ready to declare his best chance as his last chance.

“Let’s just say hypothetically speaking that I was able to [win a Super Bowl], then why not try to get two?’’ Newman said Thursday, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “You can look at it at both sides.’’

Newman, the second-oldest defensive player in the NFL to James Harrison, who is four months older, believes he can play at the same level at age 40. He played 28 of 68 snaps against the Saints on Sunday.

“I don’t have any problems with that,’’ Newman said when asked if he had something left for another season.

Newman went 1-7 in the postseason with Dallas, Cincinnati and Minnesota before this run.

“I feel good, just having an opportunity to keep playing,’’ Newman said. “This is the longest I’ve played [in the postseason]. It feels good, but at the same time, obviously nobody is satisfied with where we’re at. With that in mind, we’re going into [Sunday] with a purpose, and that’s to try to win the football game.’’

Vic Fangio compared jobs and concluded he was most “comfortable” staying

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Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had other offers but chose to stay in Chicago to work with new head coach Matt Nagy.

“I just had to feel comfortable with everything,” Fangio said Thursday, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPN. “You know, who the head coach was going to be and the continued direction of the team as far as where we were headed, roster-wise.

“It was a drawn-out process in that there were a lot of possibilities available, and so it became a comparison thing, too.”

Fangio, 59, signed a three-year deal and will keep most of his assistants. He insists, though, he did not ask for more control over the direction of the Bears’ defense.

“I mean, [former Bears head coach] John [Fox] basically let me do everything, really, anyway,” Fangio said. “I don’t see much difference there.”

Vikings built leads of 16 or more points 10 times this year

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The Vikings have won 14 of 17 games this season. In 10 of those wins, they’ve built leads of 16 points or more.

It started in Week One at home against the Saints, with leads of 26-9 and 29-12 eventually becoming a 10-point final margin of victory, 29-19. In Week Three, the Vikings lead the Buccaneers at one point by 25, with the final score becoming 34-17.

In Week Eight versus the Browns in London, the Vikings turned a fairly close game into a 17-point route, winning 33-16.

After the bye, the Vikings built 17-point leads in three straight games, barely holding on to beat Washington on the road, 38-30, suffocating the Rams, 24-7, and leading the Lions 20-3 and 27-10 before a closer-than-it-should-have-been outcome of 30-23.

Since a 31-24 loss at Carolina in Week 14, the Vikings have built leads of 16 or more points in four straight games, beating the Bengals 34-7 in Week 15, the Packers 16-0 in Week Sixteen, and leading the Bears 23-7 in Week 17 (Minnesota would win, 23-10).

Despite a couple of regular-season close calls (most notably at Washington and Detroit), the Vikings hadn’t blown a 17-point lead, until Sunday. They led the Saints 17-0 late in the third quarter, but the Saints stormed back to take a late 21-20 lead before the back-and-forth that resulted in a game-winning miracle.

What relevance does any of that have on Sunday in Philadelphia? Probably not a lot. But the Vikings have shown an ability, both at home and on the road, to build significant leads this season, thanks to a defense with tremendous third-down efficiency and an offense that can move the ball quickly, when it’s clicking. And only franchise-level quarterbacks (Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees) have been able to take games that were on the fringe of blowout status and make them interesting.

Although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles played admirably on Sunday against the Falcons, the only franchise quarterback on the Philly roster is on injured reserve. So if the Vikings can somehow do what they’ve done in 10 of 17 games this season, the second half may not nearly be as interesting as it was on Sunday against New Orleans.

Browns hire Amos Jones as special teams coordinator

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The Browns have hired Amos Jones as their special teams coordinator, Alex Marvez of the Sporting News reports. Jones replaces long-time special teams coach Chris Tabor, who left after seven seasons for the same position in Chicago.

Jones, 58, spent the past five seasons as the Cardinals’ special teams coordinator.

He served as assistant special teams coach in Pittsburgh for five seasons before the Steelers promoted him to coordinator in 2012.

Jones began his coaching career in 1981 at his alma mater, Alabama, where he played under Bear Bryant. He also has coached in the high school ranks and in the CFL.

Baker Mayfield states a preference for the Dolphins

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Most incoming rookies, conscious of the fact that they have no control over the process, resist expressing a preferred NFL destination. Baker Mayfield is not like most NFL rookies.

Via TheBigLead.com, Mayfield posted #GetMeToMiami on Instagram during a live event hosted by Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills.

Whether serious or a joke, it’s the kind of thing that the typical prospective draft pick won’t say. Eventually, Mayfield will be selected by one of 32 teams, and the fan base of that team may be reluctant to embrace him if he’s proven based on past words and/or actions that he’s reluctant to embrace the team.

While it’s possible, albeit rare, for a first-round quarterback to engineer his way around being drafted by a team he doesn’t want to play for, it’s much harder to get to the one team he does want to play for. Especially when that team, like the Dolphins, already has a quarterback in whom it believes.

It’s hardly the kind of red flag that will make its way into a scouting report rife with hot takes from anonymous scouts, but it’s the kind of complication that Mayfield simply doesn’t need during the four-month window when the NFL’s robots in training begin to act accordingly.

Panthers promote Chase Blackburn to special teams coordinator

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The Panthers fired special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey and promoted assistant Chase Blackburn, Alex Marvez of the Sporting News reports.

Carolina hired McGaughey as the team’s assistant special teams coach in the 2016 offseason but promoted him before the start of the season when Bruce DeHaven began his battle with cancer.

McGaughey spent two seasons as the special teams coach.

Blackburn, 34, became the Panthers’ assistant special teams coach in 2016. He played 10 NFL seasons with the Giants and Panthers, retiring after the 2014 season.

David Johnson tried to get Carson Palmer to return, unsuccessfully

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It’s an offseason of change for the Cardinals and their young star tailback, David Johnson. After missing all but one game in 2017 due to a wrist injury, Johnson will be returning to a team that will have a new head coach and a new quarterback.

As to the latter, Johnson tried to keep Carson Palmer from leaving.

“I think Carson’s done,” Johnson said on the PFT PM podcast. “I’ve talked to him. I was trying to get him to come back just because he was another person who was very impactful not just on the field but also off the field. I was trying to recruit him to come back but I think his mindset is [to retire] — and I definitely understand where he’s coming from.”

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has not yet decided what he’ll do in 2018. Johnson made a plea to get Fitzgerald to keep going.

“Larry’s got to come back,” Johnson said. “He’s still playing at a high level. I think he’s at 100 receptions and he had 1,000 receiving yards. He went to another Pro Bowl. He’s got to come back. He’s got to finish out and help us get to this Super Bowl that he’s trying to get.”

It may seem overly optimistic to peg the Cardinals as a Super Bowl contender, especially without a coach and a starting quarterback. But Johnson game the team a strong assessment when asked where the Cardinals fit in a division that features the Rams, Seahawks, and resurging 49ers.

“We’re definitely at the top,” Johnson said. “It’s a tough division but I feel like we’re definitely still at the top. Even with all of those injuries, we still finished 8-8. With everyone coming back healthy next year, we’re going to be at the top of the division.”

Johnson expects to come back healthy as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Though he’s now eligible for a second contract (and would like one), he has bigger objectives for now.

“Hope so but I’m really focusing more on getting this injury [healed] and making sure that I’m ready to play for 2018 and that I’m as healthy as possible for 2018,” Johnson said, “especially with so much stuff going on in the offseason with the coaches and the quarterback and stuff that I can’t really focus too much on the contract talk.”

It’s a smart approach. But even with his third NFL season marred by injury, Johnson did more than enough in his first two years to merit a deal that rewards him for what he’s done, and that will compensate him for what he’ll like do in 2018. In the end, he may have to show that he can return to form – and that he can stay healthy — before he’ll get his financial reward.

Titans complete interview with Steve Wilks

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The Titans announced they have concluded their second interview for their vacant head coaching job. Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks followed Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, who interviewed earlier Thursday.

Wilks, 48, remains a candidate in Arizona. He also interviewed with the Giants.

Wilks just ended his sixth season with the Panthers, with 2017 his first as defensive coordinator.

Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur also is expected to visit Nashville in the coming days.

Tennessee also could have interest in three Eagles assistants — offensive coordinator Frank Reich, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz — but the Titans can’t interview any of them until next week.

Joe Berger will make final decision on his future after the season

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Vikings offensive guard Joe Berger still anticipates this being the end of the line for him, but he sounds slightly less sure than he did even a month ago.

The 13-year veteran said Thursday that he would wait until the offseason to make a decision on his future.

“My thought is that this is it, but I’m not going to try to make that decision now in the middle of all this,” Berger said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “That will be a decision I make this offseason, if anybody even wants me back. We’ll make that decision, March, April.”

Berger considered retiring after last season, but the Vikings’ signing of Mike Remmers convinced him to return.

“I love playing next to Mike,” Berger said. “I’m kind of bummed that he’s a guy away from me now, but that’s what we need to win.”

Berger starts at right guard. Remmers started at right tackle most of the season before moving to left guard last week.

Bears will keep Dave Ragone as quarterbacks coach

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Mitchell Trubisky will see some continuity next season. He will get a new offensive coordinator and a new offense, but his quarterbacks coach will remain the same.

The Bears have opted to retain Dave Ragone after looking outside, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports. They interviewed at least two external candidates in former Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing and Texans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara.

Ragone joined the Bears’ staff in 2016 and has one year remaining on his contract, via Biggs.

The Bears hired former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich as offensive coordinator.

Malik Jackson isn’t buying that Tom Brady is injured

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Tom Brady has a hand injury that will affect him on Sunday. Unless it doesn’t.

The Jaguars will be better on the latter, and preparing to face Brady at 100 percent.

“I remember [Bill running back] LeSean McCoy said he had a high ankle sprain and came out there cutting and stuff,” Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson said on Thursday’s PFT Live, in reference to McCoy’s status before the wild-card game between Buffalo and Jacksonville. So Jackson said he’ll assume that Brady will be the same old Brady.

Regardless of Brady’s status, Jackson believes that the Jaguars can slow the New England offense, if they follow the right formula.

“We have to go rush the quarterback,” Jackson said. “Also we have to make sure we press the pocket up the middle because he likes to step up in the middle or that’s where he feels comfortable standing behind that center. That’s what I told our [defensive] line. We have to make sure that we create pressure, have to rally and tackle and just frustrate him. He is 40, so we can hit him.”

He’s definitely 40. Whether he’s definitely injured is a different story.

Because it’s the Patriots, plenty of people are assuming that there’s something fishy about the situation. “Did he actually practice even if he was listed as not practicing?” some are wondering.

It’s hard to find a tangible benefit to the Patriots for embellishing or exaggerating or fabricating a Brady hand injury, other than to get the Jaguars to feel overconfident. A next-level cynic may suggest that Brady is simply trying to set up a built-in excuse, in the event that the recently-lowly Jaguars roll into Foxborough and make that 40-year-old quarterback look even older.

Fortunately, I don’t know any next-level cynics. Unless they’re all lying to me. Which is possible.

Cowboys interview Ray Horton, John Pagano

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The Cowboys are interviewing John Pagano and Ray Horton for vacancies on their defensive staff, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.

Pagano ended last season as Oakland’s defensive coordinator, taking over for Ken Norton Jr. after the Raiders fired Norton in the middle of the season. Pagano spent nine years coaching or assisting with the Chargers linebackers before becoming the defensive coordinator there in 2012.

Horton met with the Cowboys on Thursday. He played defensive back for the Cowboys for four seasons, including one with Jason Garrett as the backup quarterback.

He has coached for seven teams over 23 seasons, with his last coming in 2016 as the Browns defensive coordinator.

The Cowboys are keeping both coordinators, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli, but they have secondary and linebacker positions to fill on the defensive side. The Cowboys lost linebackers coach Matt Eberflus to the Colts, where he becomes defensive coordinator, and they didn’t renew the contract of secondary coach Joe Baker.