Hopefully, Lockhart’s successor will continue regular media briefings

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When teams change coaches, they often know who’ll be getting the job next. With the league office changing one of its highest-profile executives, the NFL doesn’t immediately know who will be taking over.

Per multiple sources, the NFL enters the process without having a predetermined replacement. Lockhart, we’re told, will have involvement in the P.R. function as the league locates his replacement, and as the league gets the next chief P.R. employee up to speed.

Lockhart’s best move during his two-year tenure came during the 2017 season, when he began conducting regular media briefings by conference call. Aimed at driving a daily narrative that otherwise is set by media that the league doesn’t own or operate, Lockhart typically started the call with a planned message (often with a guest having expertise on the topic), and he’d then open the floor to questions.

Two full weeks have passed without the scheduling of a media briefing, which in hindsight should have been regarded as a hint that something was up. That something, we now know, is a change in the position.

With senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron assuming a much lower profile than Dean Blandino, Lockhart had become the most prominent public voice of the league throughout the 2017 campaign. And the idea to provide ask-any-question access to reporters on the call was a great move, creating a sense of transparency and making it much easier and efficient for those who cover the league to do their jobs.

It’s unclear whether the media briefings will continue in the short-term, or in the long-term. Lockhart’s replacement will likely make the decision, and the next person may choose to stop doing it, if for no reason other than to break from his or her predecessor’s ways. That would be unfortunate; the next league spokesperson should keep the things that worked, and change the things that could have worked better. The media briefings definitely worked.

Something clearly didn’t work for the NFL and Lockhart, however. Even when a departure is couched as voluntary, there will be suspicion that it wasn’t. After Commissioner Roger Goodell (finally) received his contract extension, questions emerged regarding the job security of his lieutenants. For Lockhart, it’s entirely possible that the circumstances prompting the exit came to a head after he and his boss disagreed publicly on whether the Commissioner’s next contract will be his last one.

For others in the league office, departures could be looming. Although Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn’t get his way regarding his efforts to block the Goodell extension, Jones possibly will get the next best thing, in his view: An overhaul of the layers and level of executives who report to Goodell.

Drew Bledsoe will be Patriots honorary captain this Sunday

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The Patriots will be trying to make their eighth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era on Sunday afternoon and thoughts of their first trip will be in the air.

New England was on the road for the AFC Championship Game that year and they had to turn to a backup quarterback after Tom Brady injured his ankle in the first half of the game. Drew Bledsoe, who had been supplanted as the starter by Brady early in the season, came into the game and went 10-of-21 for 102 yards and a touchdown in the 24-17 victory over the Steelers.

The Patriots announced on Friday that Bledsoe will serve as an honorary captain for this year’s AFC Championship Game. That should bring up some bad memories for the Jaguars as well. Bledsoe piloted the Patriots to an AFC title over the Jaguars in a 20-6 win in January 1997.

Brady has been dealing with a right hand injury this week, but Bledsoe’s status as honorary captain means that Brian Hoyer would step in if there’s a need to go to the bench this time around.

Robby Anderson arrested in Florida

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Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson has been arrested in Florida for the second straight offseason.

Andy Slater of WINZ reported that Anderson was arrested early on Friday morning in South Florida. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has posted a long list of charges against Anderson.

Anderson is charged with resisting an officer, harming a public servant/family, eluding a law enforcement officer with sirens on, reckless driving and several other driving violations that include speeding and running a red light. No other details of the arrest are available at present.

Anderson was arrested last year and charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice after an incident at a concert. That case has not been resolved.

Anderson was the Jets’ leading receiver in 2017, catching 63 passes for 941 yards and seven touchdowns.

NFL releases list of 106 early entry candidates for 2018 NFL Draft

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More players than in recent years want to get to the NFL as soon as they can.

The league just put out a list of the 106 early entry candidates for the 2018 NFL Draft. That’s up from 95 in 2017 and 96 in 2016, along with 74 from 2015 and 98 in 2014.

And because the league knows where its bread is buttered when it comes to generating interest in the draft process, they’re promoting the seven quarterbacks who were on the list of players made eligible.

That includes Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Houston’s Kyle Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Nebraska’s Tanner Lee, Marshall’s Chase Litton, and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.

The reality for many of the guys on the list is that they won’t be drafted, but the rush for them comes from a two-pronged exploitation — the lack of money available to them at the college level (where everybody else is getting rich), and the desire to start the clock on rookie deals and get to actual paydays in the NFL (where the owners are getting super-rich).

T.J. Lang added to NFC Pro Bowl roster

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Guard T.J. Lang was selected for one Pro Bowl during his eight years with the Packers and he’ll be going for the second time after his first season with the Lions.

Lang was named as a replacement to the NFC roster on Friday. He will take the place of Redskins guard Brandon Scherff, who withdrew from the game due to an injury.

Lang dealt with injuries of his own, including a concussion, during the 2017 season and made 13 starts for Detroit. He signed a three-year, $28.5 million deal with the Lions as a free agent last year that allowed him to return home to Michigan after starting his career with the Packers.

Lang is the second injury replacement at guard on the NFC squad. Zack Martin of the Cowboys pulled out after having elbow surgery and Trai Turner of the Panthers is taking his place in Orlando.

Tashaun Gipson questionable for Sunday

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The Jaguars don’t have a long injury report for Sunday’s game against the Patriots, but it does feature one of their starting safeties.

Tashaun Gipson injured his foot during last weekend’s 45-42 win over the Steelers and said early in the week that he expects to be in the lineup against the Patriots. Gipson did not practice on either Wednesday or Thursday, making that prediction a cloudy one at best.

The final injury report of the week doesn’t provide any certainty about Gipson’s outlook for Sunday. Gipson has been listed as questionable, although those looking for positive signs about his chances of playing will note that Gipson was on the field during the team’s final practice on Friday.

Gipson has not missed a game since joining the Jaguars in 2016. He had five tackles against the Bills in the Wild Card round and one against the Steelers before leaving the game.

Patriots may be wishing they had Jimmy Garoppolo right now

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As the Patriots prepare for their seventh straight AFC title game, there are significant questions about quarterback Tom Brady‘s right hand. There are no questions about the identity of his right-hand man.

Brian Hoyer would play if Brady can’t, because Jimmy Garoppolo is long gone.

The ability to land Hoyer was a key part of the team’s in-season willingness to trade Garoppolo, since the Patriots needed someone who could play at an acceptable level if Brady can’t. Faced with the possibility that the Patriots will need Hoyer, it’s fair to ask whether they wish they had Garoppolo.

They’d never admit it if they do. Coach Bill Belichick never looks back; he always trudges forward. And he ultimately chose to trudge forward with Hoyer instead of Garoppolo, because Belichick saw no way to keep Brady and Garoppolo beyond the end of the current season.

The reality is that, if Brady can’t play on Sunday, the chances the season will end without a Super Bowl berth are considerably greater than they would have been, if they’d kept Garoppolo.

None of this matters if Brady is able to play and plays at a high level. But the Patriots aren’t going to volunteer that information. Indeed, if Brady weren’t able to play, this is exactly how the Patriots would be playing it, two days in advance.

Tim Tebow invited to Mets major league camp for spring training

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The Mets aren’t backing down from the Tim Tebow experiment/publicity stunt.

The other New York baseball team announced that the former Heisman Trophy winner had been invited to their major league spring training camp (as opposed to spring training with the other low-minor players).

Tebow was definitely good at the box office last season, less so on the field.

He hit .226 in 126 games between Columbia and Port St. Lucie (low-A and high-A), with 126 strikeouts. He did hit eight home runs and by all accounts was a good teammate and the kind of citizen other people want to be around. There’s no indication, however, he’s close to being qualified to play Major League Baseball as a 30-year-old rookie.

He played professional football for the Broncos, Jets, Patriots, and Eagles also. Perhaps you heard.

PFT’s conference championship game picks

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Knotted up with three games to go, the PFT Postseason Picks challenge will definitely have a leader come Sunday night. We disagree on one of the two games to be played on Sunday.

For the picks in both of the Conference Championship games, keep reading. And then keep counting the hours and minutes until a pair of excellent games get started on Sunday afternoon.

Last week, MDS was 3-1, and I went 2-2. The difference? He believed in the Eagles. Even if he no longer does.

Jaguars at Patriots

MDS’s take: Last week everyone dismissed the Jaguars’ chances of winning in Pittsburgh, and this week everyone is dismissing the Jaguars’ chances of winning in New England. I think Jacksonville is a better team than people give it credit for, but the difference this week is that Bill Belichick and his staff will have a better game plan than Mike Tomlin and his staff had last week. The way to beat the Jaguars is to run the ball and stop the run, and I think the Patriots’ game plan will be heavily focused on that. Tom Brady had 53 passes last week. He won’t have anything close to that this week, as the Patriots will win the game on the ground and head to yet another Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 30, Jaguars 20.

Florio’s take: The Jaguars have the defense to slow down the Patriots, with a strong rush coming up the middle and man-to-man coverage behind it. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is the X-factor, but the Broncos beat the Patriots two years ago in this round, and Gronk had eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. Offensively, however, the Jaguars may not be able to match the Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick will implement a game plan aimed at taking away running back Leonard Fournette, which will require quarterback Blake Bortles to make a big throw in a big spot, eventually. If he can’t, the Jaguars won’t win. (Of course, this analysis is premised on Tom Brady playing quarterback for the Patriots. If he can’t play due to that hand injury, or if he’s clearly impaired, the Jaguars could end up with the ticket to Minnesota.)

Florio’s pick: Patriots 24, Jaguars 16.


Vikings at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Vikings’ defense had a late-game letdown that nearly cost them the game against the Saints, and it all happened after safety Andrew Sendejo suffered a concussion. Sendejo appears ready to go for Sunday, which should boost a good Minnesota defense. On the other side of the ball, I think Case Keenum will keep playing good football as he has all year, and he’ll lead Minnesota to a Super Bowl on its home field.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take: Flip a coin, throw a dart, light a match. I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week. At the end of Friday’s PFT Live, I had to finally pick a winner. I blurted out the Eagles. It could be a mistake (hardly my first), but home-field advantage is the difference in this one. If the game were being played in Minnesota, the Vikings would win easily; in Philly, it’s going to be a close, grind-it-out game that eventually wears down Minnesota’s defense and offensive line, allowing the Eagles to make that one key play needed to win the game. The best hope for the Vikings? Come out of the gates hot, pressuring (and demoralizing) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and establishing a double-digit lead, which the Vikings have down many times this year (10 games saw the Vikings build leads of 16 points or more). Quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees were able to carve into those margins. Nick Foles wouldn’t be, if it comes to that. Based on 45 years of following the NFL closely (old), and witnessing the Vikings coming up short in a big spot again and again and again, the home team gets the edge — and the Eagles secure the right to lose in the Super Bowl. Unless they can get the Super Bowl moved to Philadelphia.

Florio’s pick: Eagles 16, Vikings 13.

Will another team make a run at Drew Brees?

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Saints quarterback Drew Brees has said, repeatedly, that he plans to stay with the team for which he has played for 12 years. The Saints, so far, have said nothing about the process for signing Brees to a new contract.

Here’s the process, as a practical matter. The Saints eventually will decide what they can/will pay to Brees, and they’ll offer it to him. (He’ll count at least $18 million against the team’s cap in 2018, regardless of whether he re-signs.) In the interim, other teams will be able (despite the rarely-enforced tampering rules) to make sure agent Tom Condon realize what else may be out there for Brees, if he chooses to make leave a tree.

Surely, it would take a lot more than the Saints would offer to get Brees to leave. But with Brees, an astute businessman far closer to Peyton Manning than Tom Brady on the “it’s not my job to manage your salary cap” scale, declaring his intention to stay put, maybe he’s testing the team to see whether a lowball offer will be extended, based on his public statements of an intention to stay put.

Brees will know, if he doesn’t already, what another team (or teams) would pay. And he’ll know the moment the Saints communicate their last, best offer whether he’ll be sticking around.

When Brees signed a one-year extension before the 2016 season, he made it clear that he wouldn’t be signing another one. Apart from the fact that he never negotiates during football season, when he’s all-in and laser-focused on the task at hand, Brees surely wanted to see where the market goes before gauging his own value.

So what is his value? Matthew Stafford (also represented by Condon) makes $27 million per year, and he’s never won a playoff game. Derek Carr makes $25 million a year, and he’s never played in a playoff game. What is Brees worth in comparison to them?

He turned 39 on Monday. But he’s showing no signs of wear and/or tear. He could play at least two more years at a high level, maybe longer.

Other teams without a franchise quarterback realize these dynamics (if they don’t, they need new decision-makers), and they undoubtedly are factoring Brees into their potential plans for 2018. Setting aside the teams with no real chance to contend at a high level in 2018 (Browns), let’s consider the teams that already could be making discreetly known to Condon the amount of cash they’d deposit into Brees’ coffers.

Broncos: They need both a quarterback and, perhaps more importantly, a leader. A guy who can pull the locker room together, holding players accountable on both sides of the ball. Peyton Manning did that. Brees is one of the few currently in the NFL who can.

Cardinals: They desperately need a quarterback. (First, they need a coach.) And with running back David Johnson, receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and a roster that generated an 8-8 record despite a slew of injuries, Brees could be the ingredient to a potential Super Bowl run.

Jets: While they need plenty of pieces to become contenders, Brees would lift them to a higher level, instantly. While it may not be enough to get them past the Patriots, it would be fun to watch.

Jaguars: If they don’t make it to the Super Bowl (or if they make it and lose), the Jags could decide that the key ingredient to getting over the hump will be getting a new quarterback. A better quarterback. A first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. A Drew Brees.

Dolphins: They could have had him 12 years ago, but they decided to trade for a guy with a wrecked knee over signing a guy who was recovering from shoulder surgery. Though Ryan Tannehill remains the guy in Miami, would coach Adam Gase feel differently if Brees was interested in doing what the Dolphins didn’t want to do in 2006?

Vikings: Yes, the Vikings. If faced with the prospect of tagging Case Keenum at $23 million for 2018, how much more would they pay for the guy who led the Saints back from 17-0 in the second half? It would be a ballsy, all-in move, identical to the one that the Vikings made nine years ago, when they signed Brett Favre and nearly got back to the Super Bowl. With a balanced team on both sides of the ball, Brees could be the difference.

Despite the word salad that you (hopefully) just consumed, it remains unlikely that Brees will play for another team. Until he does, however, the chance of a late-career change of venue lingers. And the possibilities for Brees changing teams for the second time in his career remain fascinating.

Bill Belichick is typically tight-lipped on Tom Brady’s hand

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick faced questions about quarterback Tom Brady‘s injured right hand, and Belichick was exactly as forthcoming as you’d expect him to be.

Faced with an initial question about whether the Patriots could bring in a third quarterback behind Brady and Brian Hoyer, Belichick turned the focus to Jacksonville.

“We’re going to get ready for Jacksonville, do the best that we can, make the best decisions for the team that we can. That’s what we’re going to do,” Belichick said.

Asked how Brady’s status complicates the game plan, Belichick said, “I don’t know.” Asked a follow-up along similar lines, Belichick said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Asked about Hoyer, Belichick answered in platitudes.

“Brian does a great job for us. Works hard, practices hard, does a good job,” Belichick said.

Asked more about the quarterback position, Belichick said more about the Jaguars.

“We’re going to continue to get ready for Jacksonville,” Belichick said.

Maybe if reporters keep asking, some day Belichick will answer an injury question with a detailed medical report. That day was not today.

Report: Le’Veon Bell skipped nearly all of final walkthrough of season

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Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said after the season he “definitely” wanted to be back in Pittsburgh next season.

He apparently did not feel as strongly about their final practice of the year.

Tucked into the end of a season wrap-up by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was news that Bell skipped all but the final five minutes of the Saturday walk-through before last week’s loss to the Jaguars.

He also reportedly showed up later than the deadline set by coach Mike Tomlin for game days, as the coach wants players and staff there two hours before kickoff and he ignored that instruction.

Those kind of things will have to factor into their contractual decisions this offseason. Tagging Bell again will cost them $14.57 million, and there’s no guarantee he’ll show up if that happens. He skipped training camp and the preseason last year, but was second in the league with 1,946 yards from scrimmage.

He’s also threatened to sit out the season or retire if they tag him again, making this a tenuous situation for the Steelers moving forward.

Stefon Diggs: Odell Beckham is going to love Pat Shurmur

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Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has already signaled that he’s excited to work with presumptive coach Pat Shurmur.

And the guy who made the latest big play called by the Vikings offensive coordinator said Beckham ought to be excited.

Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News that Beckham should be eager to work with Shurmur, predicting big things.

“As a player, [Beckham] does a lot of things well, so it’s gonna be a fun offense for him to be in,” Diggs said. “Because Pat knows how to get people the ball. He’s special. Good coach.”

Diggs became a Minnesota legend last week with his 61-yard touchdown as time expired, while Beckham has alreadys hown his ability to make big plays in his career.

“He’s gonna call plays that work for you,” Diggs said. “He’s gonna do what you’re good at. He’s not gonna make it hard. He’s gonna make it as easy on you as possible. Whatever you’re good at, he’s gonna let you do. That’s it. As a player that’s what you want. So whatever you do well, he’s gonna let you do it to the best of your ability — and a lot.”

Now all the Giants have to do is make Beckham happy off the field. Along with making a quarterback decision for the present and future, new General Manager Dave Gettleman has plenty on his plate as he works on his first offseason in charge there.

Dave Gettleman had a “great conversation” with Eli Manning

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When Dave Gettleman was introduced as the Giants’ new General Manager in late December, he said at a press conference that he planned to keep moving forward with quarterback Eli Manning despite a rancid 2017 season for the team.

Gettleman also said that he’d need to watch every snap from last season before making a final call and that he planned to meet with Manning, who is one of three players still on the team from Gettleman’s first stint with the Giants. That meeting has taken place.

“We had a great conversation and everything went well,” Gettleman said, via the New York Post.

Gettleman would not go into details about the conversation or whether his film work has led to any different conclusion about what to do at quarterback this offseason. Expected head coach Pat Shurmur likely also has some views about who he wants to run the offense, so there could still be a change in plans at some point.

Even if Manning stays put, Gettleman will have to decide about using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback to groom as the heir to a 37-year-old with cap numbers north of $22 million the next two years.

Steve Wilks, Keith Armstrong interviewing with Cardinals Friday

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The Cardinals are holding a second round of interviews with head coaching candidates and two of them will be meeting with the team on Friday.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong will both be in Arizona for their second interviews. Wilks was in Tennessee interviewing with the Titans on Thursday and has had several other interviews during this cycle while the Cardinals are the only team that’s spoken with Armstrong.

The Cardinals were also interested in having another conversation with Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, but Munchak declined the invitation in order to stay in Pittsburgh. Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is also reportedly on their list for a second interview, but he’s tied up through Sunday.

Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher and Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores were also among the first round of interviews, so there may be more conversations to come before the Cardinals settle on their guy.