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Tyrod Taylor plans to “take it to the next level”

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As the Buffalo Bills continue to ponder whether quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the player who can take the team to the next level, Taylor hopes to show that he personally can accomplish that goal.

“I definitely think I can take it to the next level,” Taylor told reporters on Thursday, “it’s something that I’ve focused on throughout this offseason, which is to continue to keep digesting the offense and trying to be better at it each day. Like I said, this offense allows us to spread the ball around, allows me to get on the edge with the keepers, and matching up with the run game that we’re doing. I’m excited about the week that we’ve had thus far, just got to continue to keep building throughout OTA’s and minicamp moving into training camp.”

Taylor is re-learning an offense that the Ravens used when Taylor served as a backup to Joe Flacco. Taylor fits the offense well enough that, two years ago, then-Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and then-head coach Gary Kubiak wanted Taylor, who chose the Bills instead.

“[W]hen me and Coach Dennison were together, my reps, as far as actually starting and playing in the NFL were very few, so he’s had time to watch me for two years and try to build something around that, as well as me adjusting to his system. Like I said, just the reps that I’m getting here [are] definitely key to my success and I’m taking each one very seriously, even the ones that I’m not on the field, just trying to better myself as a whole, as a player, and being a better teammate and leader and everything.”

While most teams either have a franchise quarterback or are looking for one, the Bills have a guy who could become one. This is the year that it could happen, in theory, for Taylor and the Bills.

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Teenager who broke into Gerald McCoy’s house sentenced to prison

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An 18-year-old has been sentenced to five years in prison for a series of crimes that included breaking into the home of Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and injuring McCoy’s father in an altercation inside.

McCoy said he forgives the teenager, Justin Frazier, who got the five-year sentence as part of a plea deal.

That’s a lost kid,” McCoy said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “Probably just needs some guidance. It’s nothing to be upset over. It happens. You could look at it at a different way, like ‘I hate the person that tried to break into my house,’ or you could look at it like somebody who needs help. I would just advise people to pray for this kid.”

Frazier was charged with armed burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft, battery and trespass in connection with the break-in at McCoy’s home, and he was charged with grand theft, robbery and dealing in stolen property in four other incidents.

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Mike Vick returns to football, sort of

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Former NFL quarterback Mike Vick has retired from football of the tackle variety. He will nevertheless return to the field, without pads.

Via Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, Vick will participate in a professional flag football game on June 27. Recently-retired running back Justin Forsett also will be playing in the game.

It’s a test run for a potential eight-team league, which would play seven-on-seven football on a 100-yard field for 60 minutes at a time.

“I just thought to myself, ‘what would this look like if great athletes played this?'” American Flag Football League founder Jeff Lewis said, via Rovell. “There’s certainly a huge pool to take guys from. Every single year, NFL teams cut 800 guys. We need less than 100 players to field eight teams.”

Lewis won’t necessarily be looking for the best of the best, however.

“We’ll try to find a 60-year-old guy with a beer gut who can stand in and be a quarterback of one of our teams,” Lewis said. While that sounds intriguing, Lewis will need to decide whether he wants it to be a competitive football league or a reality-style sideshow.

Either way, it’s going to be an uphill climb. When it comes to football, it’s become well established that it’s damn near impossible to lure American fans to something beyond the NFL, college football, and their local high-school programs.

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Ladarius Green’s final tally: Six games, $6 million, sixth-round pick

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The Steelers’ decision to cut tight end Ladarius Green today closes the book on what has been called the team’s worst free agent signing ever.

Green, who was signed last year after the Steelers reportedly failed to thoroughly investigate his concussion history, played in just six games in his one season as a Steeler. For those six games, in which he caught 18 passes, Green made $6 million.

In addition to paying Green $1 million a game, the Steelers also lost a sixth-round draft pick in the deal. As noted by compensatory pick guru Nick Korte, the Steelers would have had a sixth-round compensatory pick this year if they hadn’t signed Green last year.

The Steelers cut their losses with Green today. Those losses were significant.

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Texans add Jimmy Raye III to front office

One of the post-draft changes to the Colts front office was the departure of their vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye III, but Raye didn’t have to wait long to find another job.

He didn’t have to leave the AFC South either. The Texans announced that Raye has been hired as vice president of player personnel/assistant general manager. Raye spent 17 years with the Chargers, working his way up to director of player personnel before moving on to the Colts.

The Texans parted ways with director of player personnel Brian Gaine earlier this month when, after granting him permission to interview, he was hired as the V.P. of player personnel with the Bills.

The Texans also announced a series of promotions. Rob Kisiel is now the director of pro personnel, Mike Martin is the assistant director of college scouting, Frantzy Jourdain is a national scout and Brad Matthews will serve as an area scout.

[Photo via Colts.com]

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Panthers claim Toby Johnson off waivers

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The Panthers have added another piece to their defensive line.

The team announced Thursday that they made a successful waiver claim on defensive tackle Toby Johnson. Johnson was waived by the Vikings when they signed defensive tackle Will Sutton on Wednesday.

Johnson signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and bounced between a couple of other teams before landing with the Vikings late in the season. He spent most of last year on the practice squad, but appeared in two games during the regular season when he was promoted after Sharrif Floyd went on injured reserve.

Johnson will try for a spot playing behind Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in Carolina. Vernon Butler and Kyle Love are other options for the Panthers in the middle of the line.

Linebacker Kyle Kragen was waived to make room for Johnson on the 90-man roster.

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Cardinals get third-rounder Chad Williams under contract

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The Cardinals are a step closer to having their entire draft class under contract.

The team announced that third-round wide receiver Chad Williams has agreed to his four-year rookie deal with the team. The Cardinals signed three other picks last weekend and have three more, including first-rounder Haason Reddick, to go before they wrap up the set.

Williams didn’t get an invite to the Scouting Combine this year, but the Cardinals still noticed his production at Grambling. Williams caught 90 passes for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and then turned in a 4.43 40-yard dash at his pro day workout.

The Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald back for at least one more year and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said “everybody thinks” Williams has the skill set to “carry the torch” once Fitzgerald moves along. That’s a high bar for Williams, but it should lead to plenty of opportunities to show he can do the job.

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Patriots sign fourth-rounder Deatrich Wise

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The Patriots made several transactions on Thursday, including the signing of fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise.

Wise played 50 games as a defensive end at Arkansas and finished his time with the Razorbacks with 116 tackles, 16.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He joins a defensive line that also includes another former Arkansas player in Trey Flowers and will vie for a spot in the rotation in the coming months.

The Patriots also signed offensive lineman James Ferentz and undrafted rookie tight end Sam Cotton. Ferentz played in 21 games for the Broncos over the last two seasons while Cotton caught 17 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns at Nebraska. The Patriots parted ways with Rob Housler this week, opening a spot in their tight end group.

Offensive lineman Chris Barker was waived to round out the team’s moves on Thursday. He’s spent parts of the last four seasons with the team and has played in six regular season games.

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Dirk Koetter: Doug Martin’s status “to be determined”

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A year ago, the Buccaneers paid running back Doug Martin like a workhorse tailback. Last season, he didn’t perform like a workhorse tailback.

With three games left to be served on a PED suspension, Martin’s spot is hardly secure, even as he draws positive reviews during offseason workouts.

“Well, we have a deep group of running backs,” coach Dirk Koetter told ESPN on Thursday, via JoeBucsFan.com. “I mean, mainly due to injury last year we had to play a lot of guys. Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber are all guys who played for us last year. Then, we drafted Jeremy McNichols in the fifth round out of Boise State. So we will be going somewhat with a running back by committee. And then it is still yet to be determined what is going to happen at the end of Doug’s suspension. But Doug has sure done a good job up to this point with our offseason program.”

Martin’s suspension wipes out the guaranteed nature of his 2017 salary, making it easy and clean for the Buccaneers to cut him and to avoid the full amount of his $5.7 million salary. Whether the Bucs choose to do that depends in large part on whether someone else steps up and gets the job done at a much cheaper rate.

Yes, it helps Martin’s cause that he’s doing well in the offseason program. He’ll need to do a lot better than the rest of the in-house competition in order to cash the checks he’s due to make this year, especially since that money no longer is guaranteed to be paid to him.

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Reggie McKenzie: We’ll do everything to get Derek Carr signed

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A report this week said that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is frustrated that talks about a new contract have not moved along as quickly as he hoped and that there’s been “no significant communication” with the team to this point.

Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie was asked about contract talks with Carr during an appearance with J.T. The Brick on 95.7 The Game on Thursday and said he didn’t feel any strain from Carr regarding the way things are unfolding.

“I see Derek every day. We have a great relationship and communicate very well,” McKenzie said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “That’s not going to be an issue at all. As far as the contracts go, I don’t like discussing contracts outside these walls. I kind of keep that as my mantra, to keep that in house. But the bottom line is that we love Derek and we want to keep him. We’re going to [do] everything to make sure this contract gets done.”

None of that means that Carr isn’t eager to see things speed up at the negotiating table, but it’s only May and that leaves plenty of time for everyone to strike a deal that keeps smiles on all faces heading into the season.

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Report: United Airlines buying naming rights to L.A. Memorial Coliseum

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The Rams announced Thursday that they will be playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum through at least the 2019 season, although the name of the building appears set to change.

Michael Smith and John Ourand of Sports Business Daily report that United Airlines has agreed to purchase naming rights to the stadium. The deal is reportedly worth more than $70M over 15 years and the stadium’s new name is expected to include “Memorial Coliseum.”

FOX Sports, through a partnership with USC, has been trying to sell the naming rights since 2015 and the money from the deal is expected to be used toward renovations of the aging building. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz is a graduate of USC’s business school.

Munoz and United were in the headlines often this year after a passenger was bloodied while being dragged off a plane so that the airline could put employees in his seat. There probably won’t be any change to ticket policies at the Coliseum as a result of the naming rights deal, but ticket buyers should probably have a look at the fine print to make sure there won’t be any restrictions on actually using them.

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Bills sign second-rounder Zay Jones

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The bad news for Bills receiver Zay Jones is that he’s currently week-to-week with a knee injury. The good news for Jones is that he has a brand-new NFL contract.

The Bills announced that their second-round pick agreed to terms on Thursday.

He’s a great player,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor told the team’s official website. “I watched him play against Virginia Tech for a couple of years. I was excited about Zay. I know he has time spent with our receivers coach at East Carolina. He’s a talented player, a natural ball catcher. I’m excited to work with him.”

The Bills hope Jones will compete for playing time as the team’s No. 2 receiver, behind Sammy Watkins.

“I’m in the learning process,” Jones said. “I’m just taking it day by day and just focusing on my job in the moment and I know that everything else is going to take care of itself.”

The signing of Jones comes on the same day that the Bills signed their first-round pick, cornerback Tre’Davious White. The Bills secured White via pick No. 27 after trading down from No. 10 in a deal that allowed the Chiefs to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

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Bud Grant’s final garage sale may not be his last one

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Hall of Fame Vikings coach Bud Grant is holding what has been described widely as his last garage sale. Appearing on Thursday’s PFT Live, Grant said it’s definitely his last garage sale — until his next one.

Grant made it clear that there still could be another garage sale. Which makes sense, given the response to Grant’s latest event. Hundreds showed up on late Wednesday afternoon and evening in the rain, on the first day of the three-day event.

While Grant started the garage sale as a way to move merchandise from years of his career in football, this year’s sale features new limited-edition bobblehead dolls. And future sales could have other things not from Grant’s closets or basement or attic, possibly with Grant selecting items from outsiders who would essentially sell on consignment, with Grant getting a chunk of the revenue in return for supplying a large throng of customers. Grant didn’t say that, but it’s a logical extension of the event, if/when his personal stash of garage-salable items has been fully depleted.

As to Grant’s career as coach of the Vikings, a team he took to four Super Bowls, he provided a pragmatic response when asked to reflect on the biggest win of his career:  “Well, if you’re going to succeed in this business, you don’t live in the past.  If you win or lose, the next day you got to to move on.  And remember, football is entertainment.  It’s not life or death.  It may appear to be that for some people.  But it’s basically entertainment.  It’s like going to a show of any kind.  It’s over, it’s over, and you move on.  I don’t dwell or replay or have anything that would — I have no trophies up here, I have no trophy room.  Nothing that stands out as a signature game or a signature win or loss.  You kind of move on.”

Move on he has, with more than 30 years of active retirement since leaving the Vikings for a second time, after a one-year return to the team following a disastrous 3-13 season under Les Steckel. In Grant’s wake is a career that still has him being the winningest coach in Vikings history, a four-time Grey Cup winner as a CFL coach, a former CFL player, a former NFL player, a former NBA player (with the Minneapolis Lakers), and a three-sport athlete at the University of Minnesota.

In two days, Grant turns 90, and he’s blessed with a large family that remains actively involved with him, and with his latest garage sale. Here’s hoping it really won’t be his last.

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Steelers cut Ladarius Green

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Tight end Ladarius Green signed a four-year contract with the Steelers last March, but he won’t be seeing the final three years of it.

The Steelers announced on Thursday that they have released Green. The move, which will clear just over $2.6 million in cap room, came with the failed physical designation, which isn’t a great surprise given how Green’s one season with the team played out.

Green had ankle surgery last March and did not play his first game with the Steelers until Week 10 of the regular season. He then suffered a concussion in Week 15 and missed the rest of the year. That concussion came after concerns were raised during the offseason about how long it took Green to recover from a previous head injury.

Green managed 18 catches for 304 yards and a touchdown in the six games he did play. If he’s healthy, he’ll likely get a look from someone else before the start of the season but he’s not going to land the same kind of deal he got from the Steelers last year.

The Steelers also announced that they have signed running back Terrell Watson.

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Undrafted running back Matt Breida turning heads in San Francisco

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It’s way too early to have any real idea about which undrafted rookies might contribute this NFL season, but an early name to keep an eye on is 49ers running back Matt Breida.

Breida was the best rookie on the field during the 49ers’ first minicamp, one assistant coach told Kevin Jones of KNBR.

After a disappointing senior season at Georgia Southern, Breida wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine. But he put on a show at Georgia Southern’s Pro Day workout, running his 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds, and he became a priority undrafted free agent for a number of NFL teams.

As the draft was winding down, Breida had 17 different offers from teams wanting to sign him as an undrafted free agent, and he ended up getting a $30,000 signing bonus from the 49ers.

Breida has to continue having a good summer just to make the 49ers’ 53-player roster, given that he remains behind veterans Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Kapri Bibbs and fourth-round rookie Joe Williams on the depth chart. But Breida is off to a good start.

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