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Bills receiver says Fitzpatrick played through cracked ribs

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Getty Images

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 2011 performance downturn seemed to begin immediately after the team signed him to a surprise in-season extension worth $59 million. Fitzpatrick’s team went 1-8 down the stretch, and he threw only 10 touchdown passes compared to 16 interceptions in Buffalo’s final nine contests.

Bills receiver David Nelson, however, believes that Fitzpatrick’s sudden, sharp decline had more to do with an injury the team never revealed.

“A lot of people don’t know, but Fitz, during the Washington game, actually cracked a couple of ribs,” Nelson said. “So after that, he was playing hurt.”

Fitzpatrick did show up on the injury report the following week, listed with a “chest” injury. He was “limited” in practice that week, and started the next game against the Jets.

We might believe Fitzpatrick’s second-half swoon was attributable to injury if he hadn’t started hot, then crashed down the stretch the season before. But that’s exactly what happened to Fitzpatrick in 2010, as well.

As Mike Florio reported in late November, the Bills do have the option of getting out of Fitzpatrick’s contract. They can trade or cut him before the seventh day of the new league year (March 19) by declining to pay his scheduled $5 million option bonus.

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Hines Ward recovering from ankle surgery

Hines Ward AP

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is recovering from surgery to repair bone fragments in his ankle.

It’s the latest bit of confirmation that Ward intends to play football in 2012. He may have passed on the procedure if his career were over.

As to whether he’ll return to Pittsburgh, Ward has publicly put the ball in the Steelers’ court. He met face-to-face with coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney this week.

“They really didn’t say anything [definitively],” Ward told the Post-Gazette. “It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad. We were just talking.”

In order to remain a Steeler, Ward will have to take a significant cut in pay. He’s owed a $4 million base salary, the Steelers are well over the cap, and Ward would enter the 2012 season as no better than the team’s No. 4 receiver.

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Rich Gannon: Matthew Stafford showed “great toughness” in 2011

Lions Packers Football AP

2011 NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidate Matthew Stafford was once called a “china doll” by his teammate. Former Lions linebacker Zack Follett criticized Stafford in the summer of 2011 for going down every time he got hit.

Truthfully, Stafford’s early-career injuries were just bad luck. And he confirmed his toughness and durability by playing the 2011 season through a fractured finger and high ankle sprain.

I just thought he showed great toughness,” CBS commentator Rich Gannon told the Detroit Free Press. “I know how important it was to him to dispel all those myths about him. … I really think that the guy is becoming a special player.”

Stafford turned a major corner in 2011, playing the first full 16-game season of his career and leading his team to the playoffs. He ranked third in the league in passing yards (5,038), third in touchdown passes (41), and second in completions of 40-plus yards (18), all while absorbing the sixth most sacks in the league (36).

The Comeback Player of the Year award will be announced on Saturday. PFT gave Stafford an honorable mention for the honors in our postseason awards picks.

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Bills re-sign kicker Rian Lindell

Rian Lindell AP

Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 in Buffalo reports that the Bills have agreed to terms with kicker Rian Lindell to an undisclosed contract.

Lindell was scheduled to hit free agency next month. The 35-year-old missed eight games due to a shoulder injury in 2011.

Lindell hit 13-of-15 field goal tries before the injury. He has been Buffalo’s kicker since 2003, and figures to retain the job in 2012.

UPDATE: Rodney McKissic of the Buffalo News reports that the deal is worth $3 million annually. The length of Lindell’s contract remains unknown.

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Packers, Finley making no progress on new contract

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Impending free agent tight end Jermichael Finley spoke to reporters in Indianapolis on Friday, and indicated that he and the Packers have had no discussions regarding a new contract.

“Hey, it’s the NFL,” Finley said. “With business right now, I don’t even know what’s going on. … You just have to play that (waiting) game. It’s the Green Bay way.”

For Finley, the “waiting game” has a timeline. NFL teams can begin franchise tagging players on February 20, and have a 15-day window to apply the mechanism.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel confirms that Finley is “expected” to pursue classification as a wide receiver as opposed to a tight end.

Finley is listed as tight end on the Packers’ depth chart, but plays a high percentage of snaps in the slot and out wide. An arbitrator would decide Finley’s position as it relates to the tag.

As Mike Florio pointed out way back in November, the monetary difference between the wide receiver and tight end franchise tags is expected to be roughly $4 million.

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Packers stay in-house to replace Joe Philbin, promote Clements

Green Bay Packers 2011 Headshots Getty Images

The Packers announced Thursday that they are staying in-house to replace outgoing offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements received the promotion. calls it “the least surprising news of the NFL postseason.”

“Tom has been an integral part of our success and our staff, making it an obvious decision to promote him to offensive coordinator,” said head coach Mike McCarthy. “He has earned this opportunity and we look forward to continued offensive success in 2012.”

Philbin became the Dolphins’ head coach on January 20.

Clements spent the last six seasons overseeing the development of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers drafted Matt Flynn in 2008, and thanks at least in part to Clements’ tutelage, Flynn has played well enough in spot duty to garner a starting job in 2012 free agency.

McCarthy will continue to call the Packers’ offensive plays.

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Forte open to franchise tag if long-term deal follows

Matt Forte AP

Impending free agent running back Matt Forte told ESPN 1000 Chicago Thursday that he is open to receiving the Bears’ franchise tag so long as it leads to a long-term contract.

“If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long term deal,” Forte said, “then I would be OK with it. But if it’s just to hold me another year and just, ‘Let’s throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,’ that’s not going to solve anything.”

Running backs have short shelf lives, and NFL teams aren’t obligated to follow up franchise tags with more high-dollar, lengthy investments if they don’t want to. Even if they privately say they will.

Forte showed in 2011 that he is willing to play hard without a long-term contract. He had the best season of his career on a per-game and per-play basis. New G.M. Phil Emery has made no commitments about giving Forte what he desires, and the franchise tag could keep him hungry.

“I’m tired of talking about it, and I bet everybody is tired of hearing about it,” Forte conceded. “The production level is there. Everything seems like it’s pretty simple to get done, so let’s do it.”


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Stevie Johnson still hopes Bills re-sign him

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Getty Images

Impending free agent Stevie Johnson has the potential to be one of the top-five wide receivers available on the 2012 open market. But he’s been a featured player in the Bills’ offense, and hopes the team re-signs him.

Of course I’m hoping Buffalo will step up,” Johnson told the Buffalo News. “If not and I hit the market in free agency, then Buffalo is in the picture no matter what. But to be in free agency to see what other teams are saying, that’s also good.”

Johnson is keeping his options open, leaving contract talks and his future up to agent C.J. LaBoy.

“I told my agent that this is the first time I’ve been in this situation and I hired you and I trust your work,” Johnson explained. “I told him if there’s something that needs to be brought to the table, let me know about it and we’ll go from there. I’m trying to get better mentally and physically. Whatever stuff [the Bills] say, just bring it to my attention and that’s how we’ll go about it.”

Johnson, still only 25 years old, has racked up 158 receptions for 2,077 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He was a seventh-round pick out of Kentucky in the 2008 draft.

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Raiders ask Packers permission to interview Joe Whitt

Green Bay Packers 2011 Headshots AP

The Raiders lost out on Greg Manusky to the Colts, but they’ve lined up fallback options to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy.

Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times reports that the Raiders have requested permission to interview Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.

New Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie knows Whitt from their time together in Green Bay, where the 33-year-old rising position coach has helped develop former undrafted free agent cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields into starters. The Packers, however, can opt to decline Oakland’s request to interview Whitt because the promotion offered does not involve a head-coaching job.

Whitt has been on the Packers’ staff since 2008. In Oakland, Whitt would answer to defensive-minded new head coach Dennis Allen.

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Tony Gonzalez says 2012 season probably his last

Tony Gonzalez AP

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez signed a one-year, $7 million extension on January 1, and the new deal spanned only one year for good reason.

Gonzalez plans to call it a career after 2012. Tentatively, at least.

One year,” Gonzalez replied when asked on a Facebook chat Thursday how many more seasons he’ll play. “I said that last year, though, and the year before. But I really do believe this is it.

“First of all, this is the first time my wife has come to me and said, ‘You’re only going to play one more year, right?'”

Gonzalez, who turns 36 later this month, caught 80 passes for 875 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. While Gonzalez still possesses soft hands, he has lost speed in recent seasons.

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Report: Fitzgerald, Manning to have dinner in Indy

Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald AP

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on January 22 that the Arizona Cardinals have “real interest” in quarterback Peyton Manning, who is expected to become a free agent when the Colts decline his $28 million roster bonus before March 8. Schefter was adamant that Manning will be pursued by Arizona.

Larry Fitzgerald is making Schefter look good.

According to Tom James of the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Arizona’s All-Pro wideout is expected to dine with Manning in Indianapolis this week. James points out that Fitzgerald and Manning are friends, but reports Fitzgerald “would like Manning to consider [the] Cardinals” if/when the Colts release him.

Fitzgerald also took it upon himself to recruit Kevin Kolb to Arizona last summer. After a poor debut season with the Cardinals, it appears one of Kolb’s biggest supporters may already be turning the page.

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Colts make hires to fill out coaching staff

Jim Irsay, Ryan Grigson AP

Mike Florio broke the news a week ago that Chuck Pagano would be the Colts’ next head coach.’s Alex Marvez has the scoop on several of Pagano’s assistants.

Marvez, citing a source, reports that the Colts have tabbed Marwan Maalouf as special teams coordinator, Roy Anderson as safeties coach, and Alfredo Roberts to coach tight ends. Marvez also reports that Pagano is retaining running backs coach David Walker from Jim Caldwell’s old staff.

Maalouf and Anderson worked with Pagano in Baltimore. Roberts comes over from Tampa Bay, where he coached up rookie Luke Stocker and veteran Kellen Winslow this past season.

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McNabb doesn’t sound ready to retire

Donovan McNabb AP

Former Vikings, Redskins, and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb drew little to no interest after Minnesota waived him on December 1. During a Wednesday interview on NFL Network’s Super Bowl Live, however, McNabb indicated that he intends to keep playing football.

I see three teams in the NFL, right now, that I feel like I can add a little bit of flavor to it from what they have,” McNabb said.  “I won’t mention those teams. But, if the phone rings, there will be a lot of decisions to make on that.”

McNabb’s “if the phone rings” statement confirms that the phone hasn’t rung. He’s going to have to be open to a backup job as a 2012 free agent, likely for the NFL’s minimum salary.

McNabb did say he’d be satisfied if his career were over at age 35.

“A lot of people take a lot of things from this game,” he said. “They take away a Super Bowl ring, they take away an opportunity to play with Hall of Fame players. When I walk away from the game, I take a little bit of everything.”

(Except a ring.)

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Cliff Avril does not want to be franchise tagged

Cliff Avril AP

Cliff Avril has the potential to be one of the top free agent pass rushers on the open market this spring. He knows it, and he wants to capitalize.

Speaking to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday, Avril said he does not want the Lions to franchise tag him. He either wants a long-term commitment, or he wants to test free agency.

I definitely don’t want to be franchised,” said Avril, who recorded 11 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2011. “I mean, I’ve been in Detroit for four years, and I wouldn’t mind being there for another couple more years or whatnot. The franchise tag kind of makes it a yearly thing, and you want security.”

Avril did express optimism that he and the Lions can reach a long-term accord.

“(I’m) kind of getting positive vibes as far as for me being there again next year,” he said. “Hopefully, we can meet in the middle and make it happen, because I’d definitely love to be there.”

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Channing Crowder plans comeback, but not with Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2010 Headshots Getty Images

Despite receiving interest from multiple teams, former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder sat out the 2011 season to let his body heal up.

Appearing on Super Bowl’s Radio Row on Wednesday, the 28-year-old Crowder announced that he will make a comeback attempt. But it definitely won’t be with his former team.

I wouldn’t go on a team with [Dolphins G.M.] Jeff Ireland,” said Crowder in an interview with’s Dan Hanzus. “I’m not very confident in him. He doesn’t know what he’s doing in my opinion. He’s real disrespectful. He doesn’t know how to deal with people.”

The more he spoke, the more Crowder seemed to get into blasting Ireland.

“He’s not a good person,” Crowder said. “He has no class and I wouldn’t choose to go back and play there. And I would have to say it’s the only team I don’t want to play for.”

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Ravens plan to extend Flacco’s contract, keep Ray Rice

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Speaking at a Wednesday press conference alongside G.M. Ozzie Newsome, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti adamantly confirmed that the team plans to keep quarterback Joe Flacco and free agent running back Ray Rice for the long term.

“Ray and Joe Flacco will be a part of this football team next year, period,” Bisciotti said.

Added Newsome, “We would like to have a deal done with Ray before before we have to put the (franchise) tag on him.”

The Ravens will be eligible to tag Rice beginning on February 20, but it sounds like they won’t do it immediately. The priority is to get Rice locked up long term.

Flacco’s future has been more of a question mark. The Ravens scaled back their offense in 2012, going more run-heavy down the stretch. Flacco has not yet led Baltimore to a Super Bowl, and he is entering a contract year.

“He’s trending up,” Bisciotti said of Flacco. “This is the sweet spot for him, years five through ten. … We’re just going to sit down and start grinding out contract terms. … I think he’s going to be extremely successful. I think he’s going to have rings.”

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Notre Dame’s Floyd recovering from rib injury

Michael Floyd, Trenton Hughes AP

Michael Floyd of Notre Dame is widely considered a top-three receiver prospect for the 2012 draft. He missed last week’s Senior Bowl for previously undisclosed reasons, but revealed in a Wednesday interview with the Chicago Tribune that a rib injury prevented him from participating in Mobile.

Speaking to the Tribune‘s Vaughn McClure, Floyd disclosed that the injury occurred during Notre Dame’s Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. (Floyd did not finish that game because of the injured rib.) Floyd said he does plan to participate in February’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Floyd also revealed that he recently measured 6-foot-3 1/2 and 220 pounds at the Gatorade Institute in Indianapolis, where Floyd is training before the draft. Floyd has shed nearly ten pounds since last spring, when he was measured at 6-foot-3, even, and 229 pounds. Even after slimming down, Floyd has a size advantage on fellow top draft-eligible receivers Kendall Wright of Baylor and Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State.

Asked by McClure whether he’d like to play for the Bears, Floyd replied, “Chicago would be great. But you never know how things go.”

Floyd is a projected top-20 pick in April’s draft. The Bears are scheduled to pick 19th.

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Arians hints Colts will play with new quarterback in 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Headshots Getty Images

In public, the Colts have been mostly tight lipped about Peyton Manning’s future since the season ended. Owner Jim Irsay initially insisted Manning would remain a Colt if healthy, though he’s gradually backed off that stance. Ultimately, Irsay has made no commitment either way while being as evasive about Manning’s 2012 whereabouts as humanly possible.

Newly hired offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was more forthcoming about Manning than Irsay has ever been in an item posted on the Colts’ website Wednesday. When reading Arians’ quotes, keep in mind that he was the Colts’ quarterbacks coach from 1998 through 2000 and is returning to the organization after 11 years away.

“It’s like deja vu like in 1998, starting off with a new general manager, a new head coach, and a new quarterback,” said Arians. “It was so exciting to watch that process grow into what it has become.”

Arians seems to be of the impression that the Colts are in a full, top-to-bottom rebuild. And that rebuild includes a quarterback change. Later in the article, Arian backtracked a bit.

“Hopefully we have Peyton (Manning) back — I have my fingers crossed — but possibly starting with another young one, it’s really exciting,” Arians said.

It’s no secret by now that the Colts expect to move on from Manning. Arians knows it; he’s openly “excited” about it. According to NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora, new G.M. Ryan Grigson knew about it “weeks ago.”

Arians is just the only one who has come close to saying it.

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Longtime NFL line coach Bill Muir retires

Kansas City Chiefs 2011 Headshots Getty Images

Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star reports that former Chiefs offensive coordinator Bill Muir has retired. Muir informed the team of his intentions Wednesday morning.

The Chiefs wanted Muir back to coach their offensive line, but the 69-year-old told the Star that he’s had enough of football. He spent 28 seasons as an NFL offensive line coach and has been coaching in some capacity since the late 1960s.

“I feel badly because they want me to stay,” Muir said. “I’m not leaving because of anything that has gone on or will go on with the Chiefs. This is a personal decision. It’s very personal. I’ve been denying myself a lot of things over the years, but I’m at a point in my life where I want to do some other things.”

The Chiefs have interviewed quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn as a candidate to replace Muir as offensive coordinator.

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Wade Phillips withdraws name from consideration in Tampa

Wade Phillips AP

We told you just a few hours ago that Wade Phillips sounded like he had mixed feelings about interviewing for the head coaching job with the Buccaneers.

Those mixed feelings have turned more certain. Phillips informed the Bucs he won’t meet about the position, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

There are a lot of reasons Phillips may have withdrawn his name to remain the defensive coordinator in Houston. SI’s Peter King points out the most likely reason: Phillips already knows he’s out of the running.  (That may explain why he had mixed feelings after sounding gung ho about getting a head coaching job earlier in the offseason.)

No matter the reason, it’s great news for the Texans and their fans that Phillips will stay put.

The Bucs have met with Marty Schottenheimer, Brad Childress, and Mike Sherman thus far. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is also believed to be in the mix.

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