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Dolphins replacing Pouncey with a guy who’s never snapped

shelleysmith

With Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey likely out an extended part of the regular season and the fallout of last year’s bullying scandal, the Dolphins figure to start a brand new offensive line this year.

So why not go build around a guy who has never done his particular job?

According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are going with free agent pickup Shelley Smith as their starting center.

But Smith said he’s never played center at the NFL level, and only a bit in high school and college.

He’s started eight games in the NFL, all at guard.

At a certain level, it’s not that big of a change for a competent lineman. But springing it on him just before training camp almost makes it appear it wasn’t a fully developed plan.

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Muhammad Wilkerson: I’m underpaid, but that’s part of the business

Muhammad Wilkerson AP

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is one of the top players at his position in the NFL, but he isn’t paid like it.

Wilkerson is set to make $1.2 million this year and the team has already exercised their option for 2015, which is worth just under $7 million. They could then conceivably use the franchise tag on Wilkerson for the 2016 season and spend a little more than $21 million for the next three years of Wilkerson’s service, something that would be a tremendous bargain if Wilkerson remains as productive as he’s been through his first three seasons.

Wilkerson is aware of that, but says he’s “a patient man” who wants to stay with the Jets and who believes that a contract more in line with his play will come.

“Do I feel that I’m underpaid right now? Yeah,” Wilkerson said, via the New York Daily News. “But that’s part of the business. My time will come when I get a new contract. But right now I’m just worried about becoming a better player, a better teammate and a better leader.”

Wilkerson is part of the first group of first-round picks to have the fifth-year options included in their rookie deals and it will be interesting to see how teams handle extensions for those players over the next year. With the players essentially tied to the teams for two more seasons, there’s not much urgency to get an extension done although teams like the Jets have to balance that with the potential benefits of sending the message that players that perform well for the team will see their work rewarded.

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Judge rejects Hernandez motion to dismiss Odin Lloyd murder charges

Hernandez AP

Behind bars for more than a year as he awaits trial for the murder of Odin Lloyd, Hernandez will remain in jail a little longer. Or a lot longer.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Susan Garsh has denied a motion to dismiss the charge.

She concluded that probable cause exists based on the evidence to believe that Hernandez killed Lloyd, and that circumstantial evidence is sufficient to convict Hernandez. The case against the former Patriots tight end lacks a murder weapon, and there is no reliable, first-person evidence of Hernandez pulling the trigger or even being present when the trigger was pulled.

The motion also attacked lack of evidence of a clear motive, but the judge ruled that evidence of motive isn’t need to prove that Hernandez committed the murder.

Even if the charge had been dismissed, Hernandez would have remained in jail pending trial for the July 2012 murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

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Ravens sign Will Hill, because of course they do

New York Giants v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Ravens led the NFL in offseason arrests, and have become pariahs in the last 24 hours for the too-lenient league punishment for wife-beating running back Ray Rice.

So naturally, they signed a guy who is currently serving a league suspension.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens have signed former Giants safety Will Hill.

Hill was suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, after previously being suspended for both the PED and substance abuse policies.

Why they would choose to take on such a project right now is a question that will be pondered in public relations classes for the future, but they’re clearing rolling the dice on being able to tap into the ability that the Giants got tired of waiting for.

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Derrick Brooks replaces Matt Birk as appeals officer

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With former NFL center Matt Birk take a spot in the league office, an important vacancy arose.  It’ll be filled with a guy who’ll soon take a spot in the Hall of Fame.

The league has announced that Derrick Brooks will replace Birk as one of the two hearing officers for the appeal of on-field fines.

“Derrick views this game with a very unique understanding as both a player and a team president,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said, referring to Brooks’ tenure as president of the AFL’s Tampa Bay Storm. “His review of appeals will be informed by experience as a player and as an executive.”

“Derrick was jointly selected by the Players and the NFL and we expect he will bring expertise and professionalism to his role as an arbitration officer,” NFLPA Senior Director of Player Affairs and Development Jason Besler said. “We look forward to working with him.”

Brooks and Ted Cottrell will handle the appeals of fines and suspensions arising from illegal hits and other on-field misconduct. They will be jointly paid by the NFL and the NFLPA, making it much different than the usual judge-jury-executioner approach the NFL applies to discipline.

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Steelers intend to address Roethlisberger’s contract after season

Ben Roethlisberger AP

There were smatterings of discussion about an extension for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is signed through the 2015 season with cap hits of $18.895 million and $18.595 million, but nothing wound up happening on that front.

That’s not because the Steelers lack interest in keeping Roethlisberger around, however. Steelers president Art Rooney II said that he spoke with Roethlisberger before the team announced the extension for center Maurkice Pouncey to be sure that the quarterback knew where the team stood in regard to continuing a relationship that has netted the team a pair of Super Bowl victories.

“And so I talked to Ben, and then we talked with his agent Ryan Tollner about where we are and the fact we intend on addressing Ben’s contract situation after the season, so that we could address a number of players who were going into their last year in 2014,” Rooney said, via the team’s website. “I think Ben understands that’s our intention and the way we’d like to proceed. I think we had a good conversation.”

Rooney said that the fact that the cap is expected to go up again next season played a role in the team’s thinking as they’ll have more room to deal with Roethlisberger’s contract after being in a tough cap situation this offseason. It will be a while before there’s more discussion of Roethlisberger’s contract, but it should be one of the bigger stories of the next Pittsburgh offseason.

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Panthers hoping to find a left tackle among in-house guys

Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Panthers clean slate at wide receiver has gotten more attention, but the bigger issue this year will be who ends up starting at tackle, and whether that person can keep Cam Newton upright.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera is confident he’s going to find an answer among what is on hand.

Via the Charlotte Observer, Rivera said he expects to find a left tackle among existing options Byron Bell, Nate Chandler and Garry Williams.

 

“We think those three guys give us an opportunity to find a starter out of that group,” Rivera said. “But it most certainly is going to be a competitive position. It will be one we will watch for obvious reasons.”

Bell has started at right tackle the last three years, but wasn’t particularly good at it. Chandler is a converted defensive tackle, who they signed to a cheap contract extension betting on his upside. Williams keeps getting hurt every time they give him a chance to win the job.

In short, they’re going to miss the retired Jordan Gross, regardless who ends up starting there. The top tackles were gone long before they picked in the first round. They inquired about free agent Anthony Collins before he signed with the Buccaneers, but they were otherwise limited in what they could do to fix the line.

Now they’ll go to camp, and wait, and hope.

 

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Andre Johnson received “some comfort” on his future security

Miami Dolphins v Houston Texans Getty Images

Texans receiver Andre Johnson showed up for training camp without anything more than (most likely) a waiver of the $70,000 in fines he racked up for missing a mandatory minicamp.  So why did he do it?

For starters, he surely didn’t want to lose any more money, after squandering a $1 million roster bonus by staying away from the offseason program.

Per a source with direct knowledge of the situation, “[Johnson] reported after getting some comfort on direction and comfort on his future security.  He got a strong word from ownership that his future is strongly secure.”

That comfort came from communications with the team.  Via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, those communications included a meeting last Friday with owner Bob McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, and G.M. Rick Smith.

While none of that is legally binding, it suggests that Johnson will get all or most of his $11.5 million in 2014, even though the salary carries with it a $16.1 million cap number, due in large part to past team-friendly restructurings.  And even though the Texans could still renege on whatever “comfort” he was provided regarding his future security, it would send a horrible message to the rest of the locker room.

Johnson also feels confident that the team isn’t rebuilding.  Whether he feels that way after the season depends largely on how the season goes.

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EverBank extends Jacksonville naming rights deal through 2024

EverBank Getty Images

As the Jaguars prepare to unveil gigantic new video boards, they’re renewing their vows with an existing sponsor.

Via the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars will announce on Friday a deal with EverBank that will keep the financial institution’s name on the stadium where the team plays through 2024.

Technically, it’s a 10-year extension to the five-year, $16.6 million contract signed in 2010.  The average value of the new deal is expected to exceed the $3.32 million per year average of the current contract.

It’ll possibly need to go up a lot for the Jaguars to see a net gain.  Jacksonville agreed to sacrifice its right to 25 percent of the money under the first contract.  The Jaguars will have to negotiate that term all over again in the new deal.

The Jaguars quietly have surged in the local market since the sale of the team from Wayne Weaver to Shad Khan.  Rumors of relocation have subsided if not disappeared, even though the team currently plays one game per year in London.  Ticket sales are up, the team is improving, and a solid front office and coaching staff are in place, with Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley leading the way.

Throw in a weak AFC South, and the Jags could make a run at their first playoff berth since 2007.

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It seems Mike Shanahan didn’t have fun in Washington

Redskins Camp Football AP

For a guy who went 24-40 in his last job, including a 3-13 dumpster fire which included alienating the franchise quarterback, Mike Shanahan is kind of picky.

The former Redskins coach told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that he wanted to coach again, but only if things are just right.

“If I get back into coaching, it would have to be a situation where there was a realistic opportunity to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said.

Beyond that shot, Shanahan’s thoughts for future employment shines some light on how dysfunctional things might have been with the Redskins.

Asked about quarterback Robert Griffin III, he said: “I’m not going down that road. I’m going to let that play itself out. We’ll see as time goes on.”

He also said he’d like a team with salary cap room, which is something he didn’t enjoy in Washington thanks to their penalty for circumventing the salary cap in 2010.

“It would have to be with the right ownership,” Shanahan added, a not-at-all-veiled shot at his old boss Dan Snyder.

He also mentioned working for Pat Bowlen, who fired him from the Broncos in 2008, saying: “He let you do your job. Every resource that he had, he’d give it to you.”

When he puts it like that, it’s almost like things in Washington last year were exactly as bad as they looked from the outside.

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Sam Bradford is “full-go” for camp

Sam Bradford AP

The Rams hold their first practice of training camp on Friday and there won’t be any restrictions on quarterback Sam Bradford when they do.

Bradford is coming off a torn ACL, but coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that there wouldn’t be any limits on the quarterback during practice.

“Sam is in great shape,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s ready to go. We don’t have [reservations] — right now as we speak, as camp starts — he’s full-go. If we need to back him down here and there, we’ll back him down.”

One place where the Rams might back Bradford down will be in the first preseason game, which Fisher suggested would go on without the starting quarterback while also saying that Bradford would see preseason action. Whatever action he does see, Bradford will need to use it to build a strong foundation for a season that will see him try once more to prove that he’s the franchise quarterback that the Rams wanted when they took him first overall in 2010.

If Bradford can’t do that, it will likely be time for the Rams to look in another direction under center after spending the last few years concentrating on overhauling the rest of the roster.

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Stephen Jones says Cowboys will run the ball more

Murray AP

It’s fitting, we suppose, that as 34-year-old Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and his twice-cut-open back prepare to lift the team to unprecedented heights over the next four-to-five years, one of the team’s top executive says they won’t be relying on Romo as much as they used to.

We will be running the ball more,” Cowboys V.P and COO Stephen Jones said Thursday, via Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think our offensive line is better than it was last year and I think we ran the ball pretty well last year.  I think we’ll run it better this year and I think there will be a bigger commitment to running it.”

If it’s true, why announce it to the world?  While the million who play fantasy football will appreciate the head’s up, opposing defensive coordinators will appreciate it even more.

For that reason alone, it’s possible that Jones is trying to make opposing defensive coordinators think that the Cowboys will be running the ball more, if for no reason other than to take some of the heat off of Tony Romo and his twice-cut-open back.

So before burning a high pick on DeMarco Murray in that upcoming fantasy draft, keep in mind that Jones simply may be providing cover for the quarterback whose back may or may not allow him to perform at a high level, or at all, for a lot longer in the NFL.

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Andy Levitre out two weeks after appendectomy

Washington Redskins v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Titans guard Andy Levitre has become quite familiar with the operating room over the last couple of years and he added another entry to his medical records on Thursday.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Levitre had his appendix removed this week and that he will miss a couple of weeks of camp while he recovers from the procedure. Per Wyatt, Levitre began having discomfort on Wednesday and doctors determined that he needed laparoscopic surgery to remove the offending appendix.

Levitre had knee surgery before camp last year and hip surgery after the year was out, although he didn’t wind up missing any games during the regular season. The hip surgery did limit Levitre during the offseason program, however, so he will be a bit behind in terms of preparation for the coming season once he is able to return to practice.

The Titans report to camp on Friday and have their first practice of the summer on Saturday.

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David Wilson had no doubts he’d return from neck surgery

David Wilson AP

Players come back from injuries all the time in the NFL.

But even though there’s a significant difference between his career-threatening neck injury and your basic torn ACL, Giants running back David Wilson is taking a low-key approach to his comeback.

I always felt fine and capable of doing my job,” Wilson said, via Ralp Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. “You want to come out here and be safe as well. You have a long life after football, and football is something I love, so as long as I can play it, I want to play it.”

That kind of determination impressed the Giants, who often had to remind him to slow himself down after a potentially life-altering procedure.

“Quite frankly, he’s an amazing kid,” Giants coach Coughlin said. “I know we’re talking about a very, very serious injury, but about two weeks after he’s had the surgery he’s in the weight room and I have to slow him down. He’s over there doing stuff with his legs. [I say] ‘David, do you have any idea what just took place here?’

“Hopefully — hopefully — it will go [well] as we bring him along. He wants to do everything now. He’s out there running back and forth like it’s nobody’s business.”

Wilson might have never wavered, but the Giants covered themselves this offseason by signing running back Rashad Jennings. But the explosiveness he showed in the past gives him the potential to be special, such that his comeback doesn’t already.
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Andre Roberts gets first crack at kick/punt returner in D.C.

Roberts AP

Maybe Andre Roberts would have signed with Washington again, after all.

Roberts, who recently said the arrival of DeSean Jackson would have been a factor in the former Cardinal’s free-agency decision-making progress, has been thrown a bone.  Via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Roberts has landed at the top of the depth chart for both kickoff and punt returns.

Right now, I am,” Roberts said.  “You never know during training camp what they’re going to do.  [It could] depend on how much they use me on offense. . . .  Right now, I’m on top. But we’ll see.”

We’ll definitely see, because DeSean Jackson has been a game-breaking return specialist in the past.

“I would like to be the kick returner and the punt returner but, you know, everybody doesn’t get what they want,” Roberts said last month. “Preferably, probably kick returner.”

Roberts signed a four-year, $16 million in March with $5.25 million guaranteed at signing.  The real question is whether he does enough this year to prompt the team to keep him beyond the 15th day of the 2015 league year, at which point his $2.75 million base salary for 2015 becomes fully guaranteed.

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