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Ravens meet with Phillip Dorsett

Pittsburgh v Miami Getty Images

The Ravens saw their leading deep threat leave as a free agent this offseason when Torrey Smith signed with the 49ers.

Throwing the ball deep has been a staple of the team’s offense with Joe Flacco at quarterback and Smith played a leading role by both catching passes and drawing pass interference flags when Baltimore pushed the ball down the field. They haven’t brought in any outside players in an attempt to fill the void, which suggests that they’ll be looking for help in the draft.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that one potential addition visited the team on Wednesday. University of Miami wideout Phillip Dorsett is one of the fastest players in this year’s draft class and he averaged 24.2 yards per catch for the Hurricanes last season.

Dorsett is part of a deep group of wideouts and falls into a group behind expected early picks like Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker as potential first- or second-round picks. With the 26th pick, the Ravens should be well-positioned to select one of them in the first round if it strikes their fancy.

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Landon Collins visits Steelers

Landon Collins AP

The Steelers will start a season without safety Troy Polamalu on the roster for the first time since 2002, which will likely have them in the market for help at the position when the draft kicks off next week.

Their search for that help had Alabama’s Landon Collins at the team’s headquarters as the Steelers wrapped up their pre-draft visits with prospects on Wednesday. Collins is expected to be the first safety selected this year and Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that he’s the only safety to visit with the team.

Collins’s status as the lone safety visitor illustrates how many defensive holes the Steelers have to fill at the moment. Kansas cornerback Dexter McDonald, Mississippi State defensive end Preston Smith and Tennessee-Chattanooga outside linebacker Davis Tull all visited the team on Wednesday as well and the Steelers need a boost at all those positions as well as safety as they try to rebuild a defense that’s seen several key veterans depart in recent years.

All told, 18 of the 29 pre-draft visitors to the Steelers play on the defensive side of the ball and it wouldn’t be surprising if the ratio of their draft picks tilts even more toward that side of the ball.

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This just in: Woody Johnson has less influence than the Pope

Woody Johnson AP

Not that we needed to be reminded of this, but in pretty much every power ranking available, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church comes out ahead of Woody Johnson.

As we mentioned yesterday, the arrival of Pope Francis in Philadelphia did change the NFL schedule, but a religious request by the Jets owner did not meet the same success.

According to John DeMarzo of the New York Post, the Jets owner asked the league to open the season on the road, since Rosh Hashanah is on Sept. 13.

Technically, the Jewish New Year begins at sundown, so the league gave the Jets a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Browns, which should allow observers/Jets fans to be home by 7:09 p.m., the time of sunset that day.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Cincinnati Bengals  v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

It’s not as interesting trying to project picks when your team doesn’t have a first-rounder, like the Bills.

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon is visiting the Dolphins today.

Odin Lloyd’s mother is continuing her lawsuit against former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez.

The Jets hosted another pass-rush prospect Wednesday.

Ravens WR Marlon Moore is looking for a bigger role.

The best and worst of the Bengals’ 2015 schedule.

New Browns DT Randy Starks wants to provide some leadership.

The Steelers wrapped up their pre-draft visits with four more defensive players.

Texans DE J.J. Watt is looking forward to working with new NT Vince Wilfork.

Colts QB Andrew Luck is pretty fired up about his new WRs.

There’s a new push to get some state money for the Jaguars’ stadium.

The Chargers didn’t deny talking to the Titans about QB Philip Rivers.

Broncos RG Louis Vasquez is back in his familiar spot.

Chiefs C Eric Kush is poised to fight for a starting job.

Raiders OLB Khalil Mack says rookies are better off if they “Shut up and listen.”

The Chargers are reasonably well-set at ILB this draft.

Miami RB Duke Johnson wants to play for the Cowboys.

Drafting a WR in the first seems like a stretch for the Giants.

Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis is under the gun to fix things.

Taking a look at the case for Washington picking up QB Robert Griffin III’s option.

Is the schedule a harbinger of declining fortunes for the Bears.

Lions S Glover Quin has some high expectations for the start of the season.

They’re even making a Brett Favre song for his return to a Packers game.

The Vikings look like a good fit for MLB Denzel Perryman.

Could Bud Dupree be the answer to the Falcons’ pass-rush problems?

How Cowboys DE Greg Hardy’s suspension still hurts the Panthers.

Saints QB Drew Brees unfazed by offseason rumors.

A closer look at the personalities of the two guys the Buccaneers are considering with the first pick.

Their free agency success has given the Cardinals flexibility come draft day.

The Rams have several options to fill their OL needs.

None other than Dick Butkus saluted retired 49ers LB Patrick Willis.

Breaking news: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is dating a pretty, famous person.

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Dwayne Bowe returns to Kansas City for funeral of Chiefs fan

Bowe Getty Images

Dwayne Bowe took a break from the first week of the offseason program in Cleveland this week, for one of the most admirable reasons possible.

Bowe, who spent eight seasons with the Chiefs, returned to Kansas City on Tuesday for the funeral of Betty Johnson, an 86-year-old season-ticket holder he had a habit of kissing before every game.

“He flew in for my mother’s funeral to give her the last kiss,” Mrs. Johnson’s daughter, Susan, told KCTV5.com.  “Her celebration was just what she wanted.  I wished I could have seen her in heaven today.  I know she was there in spirit.  It was a special ending to very special person.”

“You might have thought your were the Chiefs No. 1 fan, but in so many ways, we were yours,” Bowe wrote on a wreath of flowers sent to the funeral home.  “Thanks for making Arrowhead feel like home to me.  I will continue to play my heart out for you.  Kisses to you my special angel.”

Known as “grandma” to many of the players, Betty Johnson was a Chiefs season-ticket holder since 1986.  She drove a school bus for 35 years.

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Broncos want to use Bradley Roby at safety

Buffalo Bills v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Chris Harris revealed that the Broncos will be putting their corners on islands more often this season in Wade Phillips’s defense and they might be putting one of their corners in a different position entirely.

The Broncos are putting together plans to use 2014 first-round pick Bradley Roby at free safety in order to get him on the field as much as possible during his second season in Denver. Roby admits that his first choice is to be a full-time cornerback, but he’s open to something that both boosts his playing time and helps the defense.

“That’s why they are considering it. There’s no doubt I can do it. It just teeters in my mind: Is this something for the rest of my career or just certain times in the game?” Roby said, via the Denver Post. “I hope it leans to the first one. But adding versatility will only help.”

Coach Gary Kubiak said that the goal is to have him on the field for “70 to 100 percent somehow” and strong safety T.J. Ward believes that Roby has the ability to handle the shift in position. The Broncos signed Darian Stewart as a free agent, so they can still use Roby as their nickel corner alongside Harris and Aqib Talib as they work to put their best players on the field as much as possible in 2015.

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Andre Johnson: Being in Indy “a breath of fresh air”

Andre Johnson AP

Colts wide receiver Andre Johnson reiterated on Wednesday that he didn’t sign to play in Indianapolis simply because it would offer him a chance to face the Texans twice a year.

Johnson said again that he has “bigger goals” than beating the only other team he’s played for in the NFL, but the lack of desire to make things about getting back at the Texans doesn’t mean that Johnson left Houston with only sunny memories. Johnson admitted the end of his run with the Texans wasn’t overflowing with good times.

“Being in one place for a long time, the past two years have been pretty frustrating,” Johnson said, via ESPN.com. “Just being here is like a breath of fresh air for me.”

Part of that breath of fresh air has to include playing with Andrew Luck after cycling through several quarterbacks while with the Texans. Matt Schaub was the most accomplished player of that group and Johnson showed them all some kindness by putting a unnecessary qualifier on his assessment of Luck’s skills.

“He throws a great ball,” Johnson said. “Probably the best quarterback I’ve ever played with. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

Playing with a quarterback like Luck offers Johnson a chance to return to the playoffs and perhaps make a deep run into the postseason, which would put him on a path to fulfill those “bigger goals” that were never realized in Houston.

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Aldon Smith’s struggles a bad sign for Cowboys and Greg Hardy

Aldon AP

The Cowboys have said they anticipated a suspension for defensive end Greg Hardy, but recent history and their own moves indicate that they might have overestimated his potential ability and availability this season.

Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com raises a valid point, that Hardy’s 25-game absence from football would make it extremely difficult for him to have any kind of meaningful impact on the field.

Hardy played in just one game last year before spending the next 15 on the commissioner’s exempt list, and his 10-game suspension this year would mean a long stretch of not playing football (He can still participate in the offseason, training camp and preseason games).

He’s a productive pass-rusher when eligible, with 15.0 sacks the last time he played a full season.

But the history of 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith shows it’s not always easy to flip the switch back on.

Prior to his nine-game suspension last year, Smith was one of the most destructive pass-rushers in the game, with 42.0 sacks in his first 43 games. When he returned to the team midseason, he had just 2.0 sacks the rest of the way.

Unless Hardy’s immune to rust or the suspension is significantly shortened, it’s hard to see how he’s going to hit any of his incentives (which start at 8.0 sacks)

And that’s the kind of impact the Cowboys were hoping for when they signed him, and let lesser players (such as Anthony Spencer and George Selvie) walk in free agency. That could significantly change their draft plans, and might be part of the reason they’re hesitant to give up draft picks to obtain Adrian Peterson, knowing they need those picks to find someone to help them rush the passer for most of the season.

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P.J. Williams says teams tell him DUI won’t affect him much

PJ Williams AP

Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams couldn’t have helped his draft stock with his recent DUI arrest, but said he is doing his best to be accountable when he talks to teams.

Yes, I had a few drinks, but I’m definitely owning my mistake today,” Williams told SI Now with Maggie Gray, via the Palm Beach Post. “Right now I’m just hoping teams just judge me off my film and the type of player I am and the information they get from my coaches.

“They ask about it, but they haven’t really questioned my character, most teams are pretty much telling me that it shouldn’t affect me much because knowing my character background, talking to my coaches. . . . I’m definitely making sure it’s not going to happen again, knowing the rules of the NFL, knowing how it will affect the team and me and also my family.”

If an NFL team actually told him it wouldn’t affect him much, that would be regrettable, since the league has toughened its punishments for DUI offenders, with a two-game suspension (Williams isn’t subject to that, since he’s not in the league yet). But as a fringe first-round prospect, he may be getting an early lesson in the reality of the NFL, in which excuses are made for good players and bad ones are made example of.

Williams was busted on April 3, with police stopping him after he took an illegal turn out of a McDonald’s parking lot, and swerving over the center line. His lawyer said Williams was the designated driver that night.

It’s not his first brush with the law, as he was also involved in a hit-and-run incident and fled the scene last October, but was only given traffic tickets. (Which drops the draft stock of the Tallahassee Police as much as Williams).

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Cardinals haven’t decided on Michael Floyd’s 2016 option

Michael Floyd AP

The Cardinals don’t yet know whether they want Michael Floyd beyond 2015.

Floyd, Arizona’s 2012 first-round pick, has an option year for 2016 that the Cardinals haven’t yet decided whether to pick up. Mike Jurecki of FOX Sports 910 reports that the Cardinals won’t make up their minds until after the draft. The deadline to pick up the option is May 3.

If the Cardinals pick up the option, Floyd would get a $7.3 million salary in 2016, and that salary would be guaranteed for injury. Floyd has played well in his three years in Arizona, but maybe not well enough to justify a $7.3 million salary. Last year Floyd played in all 16 games and caught 47 passes for 841 yards and six touchdowns.

The decision for the Cardinals could come down to what happens in the draft next week. If the Cardinals pick a receiver they like, they might be more likely to make 2015 Floyd’s final season in Arizona. If they don’t add a receiver, they’d be more likely to lock Floyd down for 2016.

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St. Louis Stadium Task Force pitches plan to NFL owner’s committee

Rams Getty Images

In an effort to keep the NFL in town, members of the St. Louis Stadium Task Force made its first presentation of its plans for a new arena to a committee of NFL owners Wednesday in New York.

According to FOX2, Kevin Demoff, the Rams executive vice president of football operations, was among those in New York for the meeting.

The task force appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon made a 45-minute presentation regarding the city’s plans and provided details regarding the proposed $985 million stadium set to replace the Edward Jones Dome.

While Rams owner Stan Kroenke may appear set on a plan to move the Rams to Inglewood, Calif., the approval of the league is still required to make the move. If a viable stadium plan is in place in St. Louis, it will make it significantly more difficult for the team to leave town. Or at the very least, may lead to another team replacing the Rams in St. Louis.

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John Schneider says still no decision on fifth-year option for Bruce Irvin

Bruce Irvin Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Tuesday that the team has still not decided whether to pick up the fifth-year option on linebacker Bruce Irvin.

Irvin, the 15th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, has developed into a very capable starting outside linebacker over the last two seasons for the Seahawks. He would be due $7.8 million for the 2016 season if Seattle elects to pick up the option on his rookie contract. Even though Schneider said the decision has yet to be made, it seems likely that they will pick up the option before the May 3 deadline.

The option is guaranteed for injury only, meaning Seattle could still have the flexibility to move on from Irvin next year depending on their salary cap status following the expected deals for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. Irvin recorded 37 tackles with 6.5 sacks and two interceptions returned for touchdowns last season.

With the draft being a week earlier this year, the deadline to pick up the option now occurs after the draft instead of before it.

Also, with Seattle trading their 2013 first-round pick to acquire Percy Harvin, trading out of the first round last year and dealing this year’s first-round pick to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks won’t have to worry about a fifth-year option the next three years.

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Report: Bengals want to extend Kevin Zeitler, Dre Kirkpatrick

Green Bay Packers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Three years ago, the Bengals took cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and right guard Kevin Zeitler in Round One.

And Cincinnati would reportedly like to keep both players around for the longer term.

The Bengals have designs on trying to sign both Zeitler and Kirkpatrick to contract extensions before the May 4 deadline to exercise the 2016 options on both players, Geoff Hobson of the club’s website reports.

Picking up the 2016 option on Zeitler, 25, would cost $8.1 million, while exercising Kirkpatrick’s option would cost $7.5 million. Signing both players to multi-year deals, as Hobson notes, would likely lower their salary-cap numbers for 2016.

Zeitler has been a three-season starter for Cincinnati. He was selected 10 picks after the 25-year-old Kirkpatrick, the No. 17 overall choice in 2012. While Kirkpatrick mainly has been a backup, he has intercepted three passes in each of the last two seasons, and he could have a bigger role with Terence Newman departing in free agency.

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No meaningful Bradford contract talks, yet

Bradford AP

When the Eagles traded last month for quarterback Sam Bradford, it was believed that efforts promptly would be made to extend a contract that pays him $12.985 million in 2015, the final year of his rookie deal.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, no meaningful talks have occurred.

The failure of the Eagles to make a significant effort to extend Bradford’s stay has sparked speculation in league circles that Bradford could indeed be traded again, even though coach Chip Kelly insisted that Bradford won’t be used as a bargaining chip.

Bradford currently is willing to sign a new deal that guarantees an opportunity to remain in Philadelphia in 2015 and beyond; if he’s traded again, however, we’re told he won’t do a new deal this year.

He also may stay away from the offseason program, but that would require a more careful analysis of the reality that he’s in a contract year.  To become marketable in 2016, he needs to re-establish himself in 2015.  To do that, he may have to embrace yet another new destination.

Still, that doesn’t mean he’ll extend with a team like the Browns.  He’d play out the contract, recognizing that he could end up being franchise-tagged.  The silver lining would be that he’d then make more than $20 million in cash next year.

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Keim’s quip gets to the heart of the off-field dilemma

Hannibal

In every joke, there’s a sliver of truth.  In a one-liner delivered Wednesday by Cardinals G.M. Steve Keim, that sliver was the size of a human liver.

“If Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3, we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder,” Keim said, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website.

The comment came in reference to the handling of off-field issues for draft prospects.  And Keim is right; with jobs riding on the ability of a franchise to win games, coaches and General Managers will find a way to look past the blemishes on an impact player.

That’s why the NFL ultimately must make teams accountable for taking chances on guys who eventually get in trouble.  Either by giving the player a place of NFL employment or by failing to properly manage him once in the building, the team that knew or should have known about a player’s off-field propensity for misconduct but who nevertheless rolled the dice in the name of pursuing victory needs a risk bigger than the low-round pick that was wasted to get the player in the first place.

In the end, potentially losing draft picks is the only thing that will deter teams from making excuses for a potential star and then failing to ensure that he doesn’t create mayhem in his team’s market.  It won’t be easy to develop the right formula for determining when and how picks should be stripped, but a disincentive tied to draft selections will be the only way to keep cannibals and other potential miscreants out of the NFL.

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