Broncos coaches get Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield on Senior Bowl roster

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The Broncos asked that quarterback Baker Mayfield be placed on the Senior Bowl team staffed by their coaches and the announcement of the rosters on Thursday revealed that Mayfield has indeed been placed on the North team.

He’s not the only top quarterback prospect that the Broncos will get extended time to work with in Mobile, Alabama next week. Wyoming’s Josh Allen has also been placed on the roster, so it should be a productive week of scouting for Denver as they head into the draft with the fifth overall pick.

There are two other quarterbacks on the roster — Washington State’s Luke Falk and Nebraska’s Tanner Lee — but neither of them are expected to go in the first round this year. That’s not the case for Mayfield, who won the Heisman in his final year at Oklahoma, or Allen, who Mel Kiper of ESPN projected to go first overall in a mock draft released on Thursday.

That doesn’t mean much with UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold often mentioned as potential first overall picks and the Browns in possession of a lot of time to decide which of them might look best in Cleveland next season.

Tom Brady practicing, with gloves on both hands

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Tom Brady survived, and he apparently has an addition to his wardrobe for the week.

Via NBC Sports Boston, Brady took the practice field Thursday wearing a glove on each hand, after suffering what seems to be a minor injury in practice yesterday.

(Of course, this could also be camouflage for the secret plan to play left-handed, such that Jaguars coach Doug Marrone wasn’t already onto it.)

Brady doesn’t typically wear gloves when he plays, so this is something we can all watch carefully over the course of the week.

Falcons say Matt Ryan extension main focus for offseason

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is heading into the final year of his contract, but the team doesn’t plan to get to the start of next season without making sure Ryan is locked up well beyond 2018.

At the team’s season-ending press conference on Thursday, General Manager Thomas Dimitroff called a new deal for Ryan the team’s “main focus” of the offseason.

Ryan’s contract for 2018 calls for a salary of $19.25 million and recent deals for Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr came with average salaries of more than $25 million. With Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins also in line for new deals this offseason and an Aaron Rodgers extension on the radar, that number for top quarterbacks is likely on its way up.

That will make it expensive to keep Ryan, but the Falcons made it clear on Thursday that it’s a price they are going to pay if given the opportunity.

Dan Quinn on Steve Sarkisian: Blaming one person would be wrong

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Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said earlier this month that there was zero percent chance that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would be leaving for a job with the Seahawks and reconfirmed on Thursday that Sarkisian will be back with the team for a second season.

Sarkisian took over for Kyle Shanahan when Shanahan left for the 49ers head coaching job and the Falcons dropped from the highest-scoring team in 2016 to 15th this season. At a press conference, Quinn said that he isn’t afraid to make changes and would have if he felt that Sarkisian was solely to blame for the change of fortune on offense.

“Placing blame on one person would be wrong in this instance … if this was about one person, that decision would’ve already been made,” Quinn said.

The Falcons lost other coaches from the offensive staff after going to the Super Bowl last year and it’s clear that the transition wasn’t as smooth as they would have hoped. They’ll bet on stability making things better in 2018.

Alshon Jeffery has more TDs against Vikings than any other team

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Before he joined the Eagles this year, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery spent five years with the Bears and faced the Vikings nine times.

Some of those were big days, including Jeffery’s 249 yards and two touchdowns in a 2013 loss in Minnesota, and Jeffery wound up with seven touchdowns against the Vikings overall. That’s the most he has against any team and coach Doug Pederson was asked on Thursday if he’s gone back to watch Jeffery work against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes as he prepares for Sunday.

“Yeah, I’ve gone back and looked at that match-up in particular just to see the battle that went on and the types of things that Alshon did against him, and the coverage technique that he used,” Pederson said at a press conference. “Does it apply to this game? Maybe a little bit. I think Alshon’s a better player. I think he’s [Rhodes] a much better player, obviously, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. It’s going to be another great match-up again Sunday evening.”

Jeffery is used differently than he was in Chicago in a different offense with different players around him, so there may not be much to read into past matchups. If he does have any tricks up his sleeve, however, they would be welcomed by the Eagles.

Adam Thielen practicing on Thursday

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Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen sat out practice on Wednesday with a lower back injury, but suggested it was more of a rest day when he said he was OK after watching his teammates go through their drills.

Thursday was not another rest day for the Vikings’ leader in catches and receiving yards. According to multiple reports from Minnesota’s practice, Thielen is back on the field and working as the team goes through its second training session of the week.

That should leave him right on track for his usual spot in the lineup against the Eagles on Sunday. Thielen had six catches for 74 yards last weekend.

Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was the other Vikings player out of practice on Wednesday and he remains off the field with back and ankle injuries. Safety Andrew Sendejo, who sufferend a concussion against the Saints, is practicing for the second straight day.

One area where Jaguars’ offense is great: Fourth downs

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The Jaguars have been led to the AFC Championship Game primarily by their defense, but there’s one area where Jacksonville’s offense leads the league: Fourth downs.

Counting the playoffs, the Jaguars have been successful on 12 of 15 fourth-down conversion attempts. That 80 percent success rate is by far the best in the NFL this year. The Jaguars have gone for it on fourth-and-goal twice in this year’s playoffs and have scored touchdowns both times, and without those two touchdowns — and their success on fourth downs in the regular season — Jacksonville might not be in the AFC Championship Game.

That’s been largely overlooked in discussions of the Jaguars’ success this season, but the Patriots have noticed. Patriots safety Devin McCourty said coach Bill Belichick has been stressing that the Patriots need to be ready for the Jaguars to go for it during situations when most teams would send the kicking team onto the field.

“Yeah, Bill said that in a meeting the other day, that they are a team who is not scared to go for it on fourth down,” said McCourty, via Mike Reiss of ESPN. “The biggest thing is awareness. We’ve got to know once they get in that territory that we kind of call ‘Cuatro situation,’ that third down is not really third down. We’ve got to be prepared for a play that might gain a couple of yards, but not maybe a first down, but get them close enough to the stick. Whether it’s in a goal-line situation like last week [against the Steelers], or you stop them on third down and you’re going crazy, you’ve got to realize that they’ll line it up and go for it. So, I think it’s more awareness, because at the end of the day we’ve got to execute whatever defense we call. And we’ve got to just be aware of how it might change the play calling and what they’re trying to do.”

The Jaguars are big underdogs heading into New England, but fourth-down conversions are one way an underdog can take a high-risk, high-reward strategy and use it to beat a heavy favorite. Don’t be surprised if the Jaguars go for it a few times on Sunday.

Doug Marrone: I’m sure Tom Brady could throw just as well lefty

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There was a bit of a stir on Wednesday when the Patriots announced that quarterback Tom Brady would skip his media session because he was with the team’s training staff.

Brady wound up being listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice after a teammate banged into his right hand during the session and word out of New England by the end of the day was that he’s expected to be OK for Sunday’s game. Thursday’s practice will provide an update, but Jaguars coach Doug Marrone doesn’t sound like he’s going to spend much time looking for word on Brady’s condition.

“I’m sure he could probably throw left-handed if he has a problem with his right hand and throw just as well,” Marrone said, via Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union.

It seems unlikely that we’ll find out whether that’s the case, but it’s even more unlikely that we’re going to see how Brian Hoyer plays. Brady last missed a game due to injury in 2008 and there’s little reason to think he’s going to miss this one.

Tashaun Gipson only Jaguars player out of practice today

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The Jaguars are going to have a short injury report today, but it’s still a concern.

The team announced that safety Tashaun Gipson was the only player not expected to practice today, his second straight day out with a foot problem.

Gipson said earlier in the week he’d be ready to go Sunday against the Patriots.

That would help, since he’s part of the group effort to slow down Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Jaguars offensive lineman Patrick Omameh was held out with an illness yesterday so he’s apparently better now.

Brandon Graham: We can prove we’re the best defensive front this week

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When it came to both points and yards allowed this season, no team was stingier than the Vikings as they led the league in both categories.

The Eagles weren’t far behind, however. They finished fourth in those metrics and gave up fewer rushing yards than any team in the league, so both teams are bringing strong units into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. The front seven is a strength on both sides and Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said he and his teammates are driven to show that they have the better one.

“We always have that mindset,” Graham said, via NJ.com. “Every week and we got to go out there and prove it every week. And I think this is a good opportunity for us to prove who the best defensive line and front. You know, because we playing against the best, you know, and now we got to go out there and show up and if we say we the best, we got to go out there and prove it.”

A strong performance from the Eagles defensive front this weekend won’t necessarily win them acclaim as the best unit in the league, but such a title won’t matter much if the effort results in a trip to the Vikings’ stadium for the Super Bowl.

Jarvis Landry won’t be taking a hometown discount to stay in Miami

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Late in the season, the Dolphins seemed to decide that they plan to invest long-term in receiver Jarvis Landry, to go along with their long-term investment in receiver Kenny Stills. Next came, possibly, the effort to reduce Landry’s financial expectations, whether via private discussions with Landry’s agent or the engineering of public opinion aimed at making him want less than he could get.

Whatever the plan, it apparently won’t work. Landry’s agent has made it clear that the player will be trying to secure maximum compensation from a football franchise.

“How long has this franchise been around?” Damarius Bilbo told Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday. “It’s always going to be here. Take a discount? Absolutely not. This may be Jarvis’ first and last time to set himself up and his family up. He needs to strike and strike while the iron is hot. Plenty of guys that were drafted ahead of Jarvis have not performed to his level. Look at Jarvis’ performance level. If you want to compare him to the T.Y. Hiltons and the Doug Baldwins, those deals were done two or three years ago. It’s his time now. He’s next man up.”

At this point, the best play (really, the only play) will be to wait and see whether the Dolphins use the franchise tag on Landry. Bilbo wouldn’t be upset by a one-year tender that would entail compensation of roughly $16.5 million.

“It would be a step in the right direction,” Bilbo said. “It would show they’re taking the most aggressive approach to keeping him there, I guess. And that’s something we still have some time to work out.”

If the Dolphins tag Landry, the two sides will have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, and Landry would be able to fall back on the franchise tender for 2018 and a shot at the open market or a 2019 franchise tender that would be 20-percent higher. If the tag isn’t used, Landry will be able to explore the open market, comparing whatever someone else is willing to pay to whatever the Dolphins are willing to pay.

What the Dolphins are willing to pay is the ultimate question on this one, because it’s now clear what Landry is willing to take: Not a penny less than that to which he’s entitled.

Jay Ajayi still motivated by Dolphins trade

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Even though he’s about to play in the NFC Championship Game, it’s clear that his days in Miami are still in the back of Jay Ajayi‘s mind.

The Eagles running back admitted the October trade that sent him to Philadelphia was motivation for him.

Asked if he was out to prove the Dolphins wrong (amid reports he was a locker room cancer), Ajayi replied: “Yes.”

I don’t think it will be redemption until I win the Super Bowl,” Ajayi said, via Matt Lombardo of NJ.com. “If we can get that done, then I’ll have my redemption.”

Ajayi’s other concern at the moment is ball security. He bounched back from an early fumble against the Falcons and finished with a solid 15 carries for 54 yards — yards that will be much tougher to come back against the Vikings.

“I feel like I played poorly,” Ajayi said. “Obviously the fumble on the first carry, I can’t do that in a big game. I dropped a pass. I feel like I could have executed better. It was a great team win today, a lot of my teammates picked up the slack, defense stepped up, other running backs made some big plays. I just think coming in next week, I need to play better.”

If he does and he ends up in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl, some of those worries about his days with the Dolphins will fade from memory.

Whatever happened to Jim Schwartz as a Giants’ coaching candidate?

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As the coaching carousel began to spin, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz emerged as an early favorite for the job. But then the Giants didn’t promptly request permission during the bye week to interview Schwartz. Then, after PFT pointed out that the Giants hadn’t requested permission to interview Schwartz, they did.

Then, the Giants didn’t interview Schwartz during the bye week. Then, a report surfaced of three finalists for the job, and the list didn’t include Schwartz. Then, when two of the three finalists (Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia) became linked to other jobs, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur became the default first choice.

Setting aside (for now) the practical consequences of allowing the narrative to unwind in a way that makes Shurmur look like the third choice, what happened to the candidacy of the man who initially was seen as the first choice?

No one seems to know the truth. At a minimum, an interview of Schwartz would make sense, given that it would have provided an opportunity to pick his brain about Philly’s personnel and schemes. And hiring Schwartz would clearly hurt a division rival, which then would need a new leader of its defense.

If Schwartz and the Eagles beat the Vikings on Sunday in the NFC Championship, Shurmur presumably will get the job. But if Shurmur and the Vikings win, Shurmur can’t be hired for at least two more weeks. Would that then create an opening for Schwartz?

It’s not clear which of the two would be the better candidate for the Giants job. Shurmur coached the Browns for two years, leading them to a 9-23 record. Schwartz made it five years with the Lions, with a 29-51 regular-season record. Taking away the 2-14 season that came in his first year (one season after Detroit was 0-16), Schwartz was 27-37.

Regardless, the Giants seem to have no interest in a guy who should be at least as interesting to them as Shurmur is. The fact that they had enough interest to request permission to interview Schwartz but then to not follow through with it serves only to heighten the sense of mystery that hovers over his connection to the job.

Vikings fans’ donations to Thomas Morstead charity tops $100,000

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The best trend of the NFL postseason has been the outpouring of support from fans to players’ charities, and Saints punter Thomas Morstead is giving back to Minnesota after Vikings fans gave to his charity.

It all started after the last play of Sunday’s game, following the touchdown that thrilled Vikings fans and broke the Saints’ hearts. By NFL rule, an point-after touchdown attempt must be played after a touchdown, even if it comes with no time left and with no chance of that attempt affecting the outcome of the game. So after the Saints had already gone to the locker room and the Vikings had already taken the field to celebrate, the officials went into the tunnel and informed the Saints that the game wasn’t over and they had to put 11 players on the field for the point after.

Morstead, a punter, isn’t used to lining up on defense, but he was the first guy to volunteer to jog back onto the field. He wasn’t happy about it, but he had a job to do and he was going to do it. That impressed Vikings fans.

So Vikings fans, appreciating Morstead’s professionalism, took to social media and encouraged donations to What You Give Will Grow, Morstead’s charity for kids battling cancer. When Morstead heard about that he said that if donations topped $100,000, the charity would use the money for programs at Children’s Minnesota hospital, and that he’d personally go to Minnesota to deliver the check. As of Wednesday night, the $100,000 goal had been reached.

“Alright, Minnesota, you guys are officially ridiculous — $100,000 raised for the child life program at the children’s hospital in Minneapolis. I am totally blown away,” Morstead said in a Twitter video. “I will be there the week of the Super Bowl . . . I may be forced to root for you guys all the way through the Super Bowl. I’m just totally blown away.”

Vikings mindful of shoe selection in Philadelphia

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In addition to watching tape of the Eagles offense and defense, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has shown his team clips of another thing to keep in mind when they get to Philadelphia for Sunday’s game.

Zimmer showed clips of players slipping on the field during the Eagles’ victory over the Falcons so that they are aware of the need to make sure they’re wearing the right shoes this weekend. Wide receiver Adam Thielen said the Vikings have an “amazing equipment staff” that will be out there with them before the game making sure that everyone is making the right choice in footwear.

“You know, we play in those field conditions a lot — at Green Bay, Chicago, there’s other places where we’ve played that isn’t the best footing, so you just have to make sure you’re using the right cleats and make sure that you go out there in pregame and figure out what’s going to be the best,” Thielen said, via the team’s website. “You don’t really have concerns, you just kind of play it out and see what happens.”

As Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones illustrated in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s game, an ill-timed slip can have a big impact on a game so it’s no surprise that the Vikings are doing everything they can to ensure they don’t have any of them.