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Blake Bortles in Houston for meeting with Texans

Blake Bortles AP

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has long been connected as a possibly fit for the Houston Texans with the No.1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

The Texans need a quarterback. Bortles is a quarterback. It kind of makes sense, right?

After meeting with the Oakland Raiders on Monday, Bortles arrived in Houston Tuesday night for a meeting with the Texans on Wednesday.

Bortles met with Texans’ brass at the combine and general manager Rick Smith and head coach Bill O’Brien were both on hand for Bortles’ pro day workout as well.

They’ve been great,” Bortles said from the William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, via James Palmer of CSNHouston.com “He’s a great guy and a great coach. I’m just excited to get here, meet everybody and sit down and talk with everybody again. So I’m really looking forward to it.”

Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater are the three likely selections the Texans have to choose between if they want to take a quarterback with their top selection in the draft. Houston also has scheduled a pre-draft visit with Manziel set for next week.

The Texans know they are taking a quarterback at some point in the draft. If it will be at No. 1, Bortles and Manziel seem to have become the two options Houston is focusing on the most.

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Lions intend to split the running back role between Bush and Bell

BushBell Getty Images

The Lions have a pair of potent tailbacks.  And they plan to use both of them.  Perhaps equally.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Tuesday that Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will share the load.

“[T]his game is a violent game anymore and it’s hard for one running back to get all the carries,” Lombardi said.  “So much like they did last year, I see these guys kind of having a split role and both being very productive.”

Last year, Bush and Bell became the first teammates in league history to rack up both 500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.

Based on salaries, Bush likely is in line to be the starter.  But Bell will get plenty of opportunities, and the shared role will help both guys stay healthy deeper into the season — and to play deeper into the decade.

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Trump has realistic shot of being approved

Trump AP

Despite the bluster, the bravado, and the convenient revisions to the history of his antagonism of the NFL, billionaire Donald Trump would have a good chance of being approved as owner of the Bills, if the family of Ralph Wilson decides to sell the team to him.

“I don’t see why not,” a source with direct knowledge of the dynamics of team ownership told PFT on Tuesday.  “He’s the only one saying it will stay in Buffalo.”

But what of Trump’s thirst for attention, his potential inability to put the greater good above his own interests, his tendency to be belligerent and combative with real or imagined enemies?

“I don’t think there are nine people to stop him,” the source said, in reference to the fact that nine “no” votes from other owners can block the sale.

Of course, a vote of the owners won’t matter unless the Wilson family chooses to sell the team to Trump.  It’s one thing for Trump to talk publicly about buying the franchise.  It’s quite another to put the cash and financing together to make the purchase.

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Report: 49ers “very unlikely” to pick up option on Aldon Smith

AldonSmith AP

The 49ers have until May 3 to decide whether to extend the contract of linebacker Aldon Smith from four years to five.  In the wake of his latest off-field incident, we reported that the 49ers haven’t made a decision on whether to pick up the option.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reports that the team is “very unlikely” to extend the deal.

Kawakami also believes that Smith “probably” won’t play for the 49ers in 2014.  The mechanism for Smith’s unavailability is unclear.  He could be suspended by the league under multiple policies and/or he could be placed on the non-football injury/illness list by the team if he has had a relapse of his alcohol issues.

The decision not to exercise the option reinforces the notion that the 49ers may indeed be done with Smith, at least for now.  Exercising the option would guarantee his 2015 salary of $9.75 million for injury only.  As of next March, it would be fully guaranteed.

For now, Smith’s 2014 salary also is guaranteed.  A suspension would wipe out the guarantee, however.  Likewise, if the 49ers were to place Smith on the NFI list, they wouldn’t have to pay him.

The risk of owing him $9.75 million in 2015 remains small.  Which would make a decision not to pick up the option confusing.  If the 49ers are done with Smith, why not trade him?  He’d be more attractive in trade if his new team would control his rights for two years.

Regardless of how the situation plays out, the 49ers clearly are exploring their options.  And those options include Smith never suiting up for the 49ers again.

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Source: Schedule release planned for April 22

NFL Getty Images

When it comes to the 2014 schedule, the NFL has said that the target for the release is mid-April, but that the schedule won’t be released this week.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL currently plans to release the schedule on Tuesday, April 22.

The unveiling of the schedule could be shifted to Wednesday, April 23 or Thursday, April 24.  For now, though, the plan is to pull the sheet off the 256-game slate on Tuesday.

Look for the schedule to be announced in prime-time, with a multi-hour event on NFL Network and something similar to that on ESPN, complete with (if last year’s trend holds) an effort to make preliminary picks for games to be played in December.

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NFL could discipline Aldon Smith without resolution of pending charges

Smith Getty Images

The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy gives a player the benefit of the doubt when he finds himself in one wrong-place/wrong-time situation.  The policy isn’t as forgiving when it happens two or more times.

With 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith now involved in a second incident that falls under the Personal Conduct Policy, he could be disciplined before either or both situations are resolved in court.

“With respect to repeat offenders, the Commissioner may impose discipline on an enhanced and/or expedited basis,” the league’s Personal Conduct Policy states.  “In such cases, the timing and nature of the discipline will be determined by the Commissioner based on several factors including, but not limited to:  the severity of the initial charge and the later charge, the facts underlying the later charge; the length of time between the initial offense and later charge; and the player or employee’s compliance with counseling and other programs.”

Last year, Smith was charged with multiple felony counts arising from the alleged possession of illegal weapons.  He now faces an eventual felony charge arising from the allegation that he made a false claim of having a bomb while in an airport security line.

With a pair of pending felony incidents, that could be enough to prompt the NFL to move against Smith sooner rather than later.

Multiple players have been suspended by the NFL while charges were still pending.  Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games (reduced to four) without ever being even arrested or charged.

Smith’s multiple alcohol-related arrests fall under the substance-abuse policy.  The NFL could be influenced by those incidents when deciding whether to discipline Smith before either of the two non-alcohol charges has been resolved.

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Jaworski ranks Mettenberger over Manziel, Bridgewater

Zach Mettenberger

Ron Jaworski, the former NFL quarterback turned ESPN commentator, is well regarded for his ability to break down film and analyze it in a way that fans can understand. But in breaking down the quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft, Jaworski has been all over the map.

The latest example: Jaworski said today on NFL Live that he views former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a better prospect than either of the two highest-profile quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.

“This is the guy that can change the draft, Zach Mettenberger,” Jaworski said. “He has the big, strong arm, the prototypical NFL quarterback, at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, coached by Cam Cameron down there at LSU, pro-style offense.”

Jaworski ranks former Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles as the best of this year’s class, Mettenberger second, Manziel third, Bridgewater fourth and Derek Carr of Fresno State fifth. Jaworski seems to put a lot of stock in pro days, moving Manziel up on the risk after ripping Manziel before his impressive showing at Texas A&M’s Pro Day, and moving Bridgewater way down after his disappointing showing at Louisville’s Pro Day.

“After my tape evaluation, I had Teddy Bridgewater No. 1. But I went to his Pro Day. He really struggled throwing the football — accuracy, velocity and it came out with a wobble,” Jaworski said.

It’s highly unlikely that the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class will be selected in Jaworski’s preferred order. But all it takes is one team to love Mettenberger as much as Jaworski does, and Mettenberger will be a first-round pick.

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Report: Hernandez investigated for threatening to kill jail guard

Hernandez AP

When it comes to his various legal challenges, former Patriots right end Aaron Hernandez keeps adding new ones instead of resolving old ones.

According to TMZ, Hernandez is being investigated for allegedly threatening to shoot and kill a guard at the Bristol County Jail.  The threat allegedly was made in late 2013.

Hernandez has been imprisoned without bail since June 2013 for allegedly killing Odin Lloyd.

Per the report, investigators have met with another inmate to discuss the allegations.  The inmate was reportedly asked whether he heard Hernandez threaten to “kill the guard and shoot his family” once Hernandez is out of jail, or if Hernandez ever made noises similar to the sound of a machine gun at the guard.

The inmate said Hernandez never threatened the guard.  Which of course means the inmate now won’t have to worry about being shot by Hernandez when Hernandez gets out of jail.

If, of course, Hernandez ever gets out of jail.

Earlier this year, Hernandez was involved in an altercation with another inmate at the jail.  He faces assault charges, and he was placed in isolation for 30 days.

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Rodgers, Stafford, Brady among world’s highest-paid athletes

Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady were the three highest-paid players on American sports teams in the last year.

That’s the word from ESPN’s survey of worldwide sports salaries, which found that Rodgers, Stafford and Brady were three of only seven professional athletes in the world who made at least $31 million last year.

There are some caveats. The survey covered only athletes’ salaries and prize money, and not endorsements. And one year of income isn’t necessarily the best method to measure an athlete’s earning power. There are NBA and Major League Baseball players who average more money than Rodgers, Stafford and Brady over the length of their contracts, just none who made as much as those three quarterbacks last year. The ESPN methodology also may have counted players’ signing bonuses as having been received at the time a new contract was signed, even if in reality the contract is structured so that the player has to wait to receive some of his bonus money.

By ESPN’s methodology, the highest-paid athlete in the world was boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., at $73.5 million. Second and third were soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at $50.2 million and $50.1 million. Next was Rodgers, who made $40 million in 2013, the year he signed a new five-year, $110 million contract.

Next was Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimović at $35 million, followed by Stafford at $31.5 million and Brady at $31 million. Five other NFL players made the list of the Top 20 highest-paid athletes in the world: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco at $30 million, Tony Romo at $26.5 million, Calvin Johnson (the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback) at $25 million and Peyton Manning at $25 million. Of the 19 athletes in the world with incomes of $25 million or more, eight were in the NFL.

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Chris Johnson is at the Jets’ facility

Chris Johnson AP

The Jets’ interest in free agent running back Chris Johnson wasn’t just talk.

Johnson is actually at the Jets’ facility this morning for a visit with team officials, Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported and PFT has confirmed.

If the Jets were to sign Johnson this week, they’d have him in the fold for the start of their offseason conditioning program, which begins on Monday.

In the week since Johnson officially became a free agent when the Titans cut him, the Jets have been the team most frequently discussed as a potential destination for him. Although Johnson averaged a career-low 3.9 yards a carry last season, he still has big-play ability and could be a good fit in the offense, paired with fellow running back Chris Ivory. It wouldn’t be surprising to see something happen quickly.

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Offseason workouts the next frontier for rookies to say “no”

Clowney Getty Images

Peter King’s report that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney won’t work out privately for NFL teams includes a suggestion that Clowney will work out once he’s drafted, at his new team’s offseason workouts.

Clowney should indeed do that, as long as whoever takes Clowney signs him to a contract before doing so.

With players taking more and more of a stand against assuming risks and putting in work without protection or compensation, incoming draft picks refusing to go to work without their contracts being signed potentially becomes the loose NFL equivalent of the Northwestern unionization effort.

Currently, draft picks sign a simple, one-page protection letter, which promises that they’ll get the contract they would have gotten for the draft slot they occupy, if they suffer a serious injury during offseason workouts.  But with the process of negotiating rookie contracts so much simpler under the 2011 CBA, why not just sign the rookies to contracts before they show up for work?

There’s a sense among some agents that a stronger stand will be taken this year against working out without true protection.  And that would be a very good thing.  The NFL got what it wanted three years ago, dramatically reducing the compensation of the players taken at the top of the draft.  The least the teams can do in return is crystallize that limited compensation in the form of a real contract, and not merely a promise to later give the player a contract.

If the teams won’t, folks like Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, Johnny Manziel, and every other draft pick should say, “We’ll see you when you will.”

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Jets remain interested in Chris Johnson

chris-johnson Getty Images

All has been quiet on the Chris Johnson cut since the Titans cut him, but the Jets continue to be interested in the free agent running back.

The Jets were identified as a potential suitor for Johnson as soon as he became available, and Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the Jets remain one of the few serious suitors for Johnson.

There’s no word on who any of the other suitors may be, and that may point to the reason Johnson is taking longer than expected to find a new home: If there aren’t a lot of teams expressing interest, Johnson won’t be able to demand the kind of contract he wants. Suffice to say, Johnson is going to have to take a whole lot less money than he’s been making from the Titans.

But the Jets like the idea of pairing Johnson in the backfield with Chris Ivory, and the Jets have plenty of salary cap space. If any team is going to give Johnson even close to the kind of money he wants, it may be the Jets.

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Trump plans to make a run at buying the Bills

Trump AP

When Donald Trump first disclosed his interest in the Bills, he said he’d been approached about investing.  Now, he says he wants to take over.

Trump told Tim Graham of the Buffalo News that the one-time owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals intends to make a run at buying the Bills.

“I’m going to give it a heavy shot,” Trump said.  “I would love to do it, and if I can do it I’m keeping it in Buffalo.”

Of course, Trump wouldn’t be doing that as a favor to the people of Buffalo, but for his own convenience.

“I live in New York, and it’s easier for me to go to Buffalo than any other place,” Trump said. “Where am I going to move it, some place on the other side of the country, where I have to travel for five hours?”

Regardless of the motivation, the end result of a Trump purchase of the Bills would be that they would remain the Buffalo Bills.

Trump apparently can afford to buy the team.  Per Graham, Forbes estimates that Trump is worth $3.9 billion.  Graham reports that but “sources close to [Trump] claim he’s worth almost three times that.”

It sounds like the source close to Trump is Trump himself, because that sounds like something Trump would say.  Whether it’s $3.9 billion or $11.7 billion, he can afford it.  The real question is whether he can get enough votes to approve his entry into one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.

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Gilbride calls notion Eli is in decline “ludicrous”

Eli AP

It would be easy and convenient for former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to adopt the notion that quarterback Eli Manning is in decline.  After all, that would make the team’s poor offensive performance in 2013 seem more like Manning’s responsibility and less like Gilbride’s.

But that’s not what Gilbride said when given the chance to address the question of whether Eli’s play is slipping.  Appearing in studio as a guest analyst on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk, Gilbride dismissed the idea that Eli has lost his edge.

“There’s been no deterioration of his arm strength, there’s been no lack of preparation and effort,” Gilbride said.  “I think he’s going to be fine as soon as they solidify the offensive line.  They certainly made a move to do that by bringing in three interior offensive linemen and as soon as they get somebody that’s going to be productive for them as an outside receiver — Victor Cruz is terrific, but they need somebody that when they go match up, bump and run [and] go win for them.”

So is Eli in decline?

“I think that’s, to be honest with you, ludicrous,” Gilbride said.  “I think he’s going to be fine. . . .  He’s going to throw the ball to the right person and he’s going to throw it accurately.”

Over the weekend, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reported that the question of whether Eli is in decline “has not gone unasked” in the team’s front office.  And it’s a fair question to at least ponder, given that Eli sits two seasons away from a new contract, with salaries of $15.1 million in 2014 and $17 million in 2015.

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Aldon Smith puts Jim Harbaugh’s “above reproach” stance to the test

Aldon Smith, Jim Harbaugh AP

Last year, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh took notice of the rival Seahawks having players suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and Harbaugh used the Seahawks’ troubles as an opportunity to explain his own philosophy about holding players accountable.

“We want to be above reproach in everything and do everything by the rules,” Harbaugh said.

Now one of Harbaugh’s most talented players is putting that stance to the test.

Aldon Smith, the dynamic pass rusher who was the first player the 49ers drafted in Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach, has been arrested again, this time for claiming he had a bomb at airport security. Police say Smith appeared to be drinking before the incident, which is of particular concern because Smith missed five games last year while spending time in a rehab facility following a DUI arrest. That was the second DUI arrest for Smith during his time with the 49ers, and he’s also currently facing felony weapons charges stemming from another incident.

Whatever else you can say about Smith, he is most certainly not “above reproach in everything.”

This puts Harbaugh in a bind. Harbaugh has already faced some criticism for allowing Smith to play in a game against the Colts last season, after the DUI arrest but before he went into rehab. The fact that Smith apparently still hasn’t learned his lesson will open Harbaugh up to more questions about just how many second chances Smith is going to get.

If Harbaugh, 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke and 49ers owner Jed York really want to show that they’re serious about being “above reproach,” they could release Smith. But that’s extremely unlikely. When a player as talented as Smith gets into trouble, teams usually decide that they simply can’t get rid of a great talent, no matter how many off-field headaches he causes.

The 49ers have every right to make that calculation, but the next time Harbaugh is asked about another team’s troubles, he probably shouldn’t hold up his own team as a symbol of being above reproach in everything.

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