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Pagano plans to coach Colts for “many years to come”

Pagano Getty Images

Colts coach Chuck Pagano reportedly won’t be getting a new contract before the final season of his initial four-year deal.  But that doesn’t have Pagano thinking about working for any other team.

Be where your feet are,” Pagano said in a statement issued Friday night, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.  “What do I mean?  Cancer taught me to be thankful for today.  All I’m concentrating on is today.  Then tomorrow.  My focus right now is on the draft, bringing in players that can help us continue to grow, get better, and continue to ‘Build the Monster.’  I look forward to coaching the Colts this season and for many years to come.”

To summarize, Pagano isn’t thinking about the future but he plans to remain with the Colts well into the future.  Whether owner Jim Irsay feels that way after the next football season ends remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen whether Irsay issues a statement of his own.  Or says something about the situation on Twitter.  Using what may or may not be song lyrics.

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Bears owner at first said no to Ray McDonald, then changed his mind

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Bears owner George McCaskey says that when General Manager Ryan Pace first approached him about signing Ray McDonald, McCaskey said no. Then McDonald changed McCaskey’s mind.

McCaskey said that he initially thought McDonald, who was accused of both domestic violence and sexual assault last year, should not be brought to Chicago. But McDonald, who was not charged in connection with either accusation, reached out to McCaskey personally and convinced him that the Bears should take a chance on him.

“Ryan had asked me for permission to pursue him, and we had a file on him with the information that we had gathered,” McCaskey said. “I looked at the file and came back and said no. So Ryan said, ‘Fine, we’ll move onto the next guy.’ And then Ray . . . asked if I would be willing to meet with him and I said yes. The fact that he proposed that idea, I gave him a lot of credit for. He was very candid, very forthright. It was a difficult conversation. It was long. It took a lot out of me and I think it took a lot out of him. After that conversation, I told Ryan that he had our permission.”

So what did McDonald say to McCaskey to change his mind?

“He talked about these incidents which have become public knowledge and walked me through each one,” McCaskey said. “I don’t want to get too much into the particulars. I just want to give you a sense of the conversation. I was impressed with how sincere he was and how he motivated he is. He understands I think that he could have well been facing the end of his football career, and he loves football and he wants that career to continue. So I was impressed with his motivation.”

Now the question is whether McDonald can stay out of trouble in Chicago, or whether the Bears will have egg on their faces for giving McDonald another chance.

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Jets sending six to work out Mariota

Playoff Championship Ohio St Oregon Football AP

Back from Arizona after the league meetings, the Jets will now be heading west for a workout with quarterback Marcus Mariota.  And they may need a bigger plane to get there.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that six key decision makers will be heading to Oregon to work out Mariota, including G.M. Mike Maccagnan, coach Todd Bowles, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo, director of college scouting Rex Hogan, and director of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger.

The Jets currently sit at No. 6 in round one, and there’s a chance Mariota will slide to them.  There’s also a chance the Jets will become sufficiently enthralled with Mariota to trade up with the team bearing the nickname the Jets once had:  The Titans.

Three years ago, Washington gave up the No. 6 pick, two additional first-round picks, and a second round pick to jump to No. 2, where they selected quarterback Robert Griffin III.

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Foles may just be a stopgap in St. Louis

folesfisher AP

The Rams like Nick Foles enough that they turned down at least one offer of a first-round draft pick for Sam Bradford, and traded for Foles instead. But the Rams may not like Foles enough to keep him around beyond this year.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher says the Rams plan to draft a quarterback this year, and the presence of Foles doesn’t change that.

It’s our intention to draft one,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The Nick trade has no bearing over what we do in the draft.”

But which quarterback will they draft? Florida State’s Jameis Winston seems to be going to Tampa Bay with the first overall pick, and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will almost certainly be off the board when the Rams pick at No. 10. Would the Rams move up for Mariota? To hear Fisher talk about Winston and Mariota, they’re two players who are worth trading up to draft.

“They’re unique; they’re rare,” Fisher said. “They’ve clearly proven they can win games. Marcus obviously is a little bit more mobile than Winston is. But Winston makes all of the throws. They’re both very impressive to watch.”

Realistically, the Rams probably aren’t going to be able to draft either Winston or Mariota. But a quarterback like Baylor’s Bryce Petty, UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson could make sense in the second round. And Foles could make sense as a one-year starter who holds onto the job just until a second-round quarterback is ready to take over.

Which means Foles, who is heading into the final season of his contract, may be changing teams again at this time next year.

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Giants have high hopes for a “dominant” offense

Atlanta Falcons v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants had a mediocre offense last season, the first year with Ben McAdoo as the coordinator. This year, they expect much bigger things.

That’s the word from Giants running back Rashad Jennings, who said quarterback Eli Manning is going to take a big step forward in his second season playing in McAdoo’s system.

I think we’re going to have a dominant offense,” Jennings said, via NJ.com. “Eli is really comfortable in the offense now — being able to control a lot from the line of scrimmage.”

The Giants’ decision to sign running back Shane Vereen could be bad news for Jennings, who may get fewer opportunities this season with Vereen in town. But Jennings sees Vereen’s presence as a plus.

“It’s going to be big,” Jennings said. “Any time you can add depth at any position, any room, it’s valuable. He’s a guy that’s been on a team that knows the recipe of winning. We extract from that. We’ll be able to add. Also, he’s a great catcher from the backfield. So that’s going to entice the coordinator to throw to the running backs more. So I’m happy with that. He’s a good player and from everything I understand he’s a good teammate. I’m glad to have him aboard.”

The Giants’ offense did take a step forward last year — even mediocre in 2014 is better than what they were in 2013 — but they need to take another step this year. Jennings sounds very confident they’ll do just that.

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Hernandez fiancee: I asked him if he killed Odin, he said no, that was it

shayanna AP

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee testified in court today that he told her he did not murder their friend Odin Lloyd.

Shayanna Jenkins, who prosecutors say helped Hernandez get rid of evidence after Lloyd was shot and killed, testified in front of a judge — but not in front of the jurors — and said that Hernandez said that she asked her fiance directly whether he murdered Lloyd. He told her that he didn’t, and she didn’t press the matter.

“When Aaron got back from the police station, when I had found out that Odin was murdered, I asked him if he did it and he said no. That was the extent of our conversation,” she said.

Jenkins was also asked about a text message from Hernandez in which he wrote, “Go in back of the screen in movie room when u get home an there is the box.” Prosecutors allege that was Hernandez telling Jenkins where he had hidden the murder weapon and that she should get rid of it before police searched the house. Jenkins admits that she took a box from the home and threw it in a dumpster after that, but she says that was just a coincidence and that the text wasn’t an instruction for her to do so.

According to Michele Steele of ESPN, Jenkins mouthed “I love you” to Hernandez as she walked out of the courtroom.

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Jason Garrett: Catch rule robbed the NFL of a classic finish

Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett believes that a better-written NFL rule would have given Dez Bryant a catch at the end of the playoff game in Green Bay — and would have given the NFL an all-time playoff classic.

Garrett pointed out that the Cowboys would have had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, setting up, potentially, a game as memorable as another Cowboys-Packers battle, the Ice Bowl.

“To have the Cowboys inside the 1-yard line at Lambeau Field with 4:45 to go 47 years after Bart Starr had a quarterback sneak is great for our game,” Garrett said, via the Star-Telegram. “To have Aaron Rodgers standing on the other sideline waiting for his opportunity to come back, that’s what we want. And Dez Bryant getting three feet and a forearm down I think should be a catch in in our league. I think we should find ways to make sure it is going forward. It has nothing to do with our game, our team, its about how to right the rule going forward.”

As it is, that game will be remembered more for a great play that didn’t count than for a great ending.

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Strange developments at Hernandez trial

Hernandez AP

On Thursday, a bomb threat interrupted the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial.  On Friday, things could get even more interesting.

The day has begun with Judge E. Susan Garsh individually questioning the jurors, in the presence of the lawyers and Hernandez.  Via Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, the jurors were standing two feet from Hernandez while fielding and answering questions.

It’s not known what the jurors are being asked, but it’s entirely possible (if not probable) that the judge and the lawyers are ensuring that each juror will continue to serve without bias or prejudice in the aftermath of Thursday’s events, for which an arrest has been made.

Once testimony resumes, Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, is expected to testify.  Via Michele Steele of ESPN, Jenkins has arrived in court wearing her engagement ring.  Which suggests that she won’t be flipping on Hernandez today, regardless of the immunity from prosecution that she has received.

Then again, the presence of the ring will make her testimony even more credible, if she provides information that hurts Hernandez’s case.  Prosecutors believe Jenkins disposed of the murder weapon.

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Despite concussions, Troy Aikman says he feels good in retirement

2012 NFL Honors - Arrivals Getty Images

Both the book League of Denial and the PBS documentary that draws from it devote a great deal of attention to Troy Aikman, who played in a Super Bowl after suffering a serious concussion in the NFC Championship Game, and who retired in part because of concerns about concussions. But 15 years after his playing career ended, Aikman says he’s doing fine.

Aikman told Richard Deitsch of TheMMQB.com that he had a thorough neurological exam that gave him a clean bill of health. Aikman also said he has always felt that he remains mentally sharp and has never had any issues such as memory loss that would affect his ability to work as a broadcaster.

“It certainly gave me some peace of mind,” Aikman said. “But the reason I have never been concerned is that the job that I have with Fox is a mental exercise—recalling numbers and names and things of that nature. I am able to do that pretty readily. I do think broadcasting with Fox keeps my mind active, and I think it helps.”

Aikman says he would neither encourage a child to play football nor discourage a child from playing football, as he views it as an individual decision that may be right for some and wrong for others. But he’s clear that from his perspective, he’s benefited from playing the game.

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Michael Sam: “I am not the only gay person in the NFL”

Michael Sam AP

Michael Sam was going to be the first openly gay player in the NFL, when he was drafted by the Rams last year.

But he said he quickly found out he’d have been far from the only gay player in the league.

During an appearance at an event in Dallas last night, Sam declined to offer a number, but said there were many players who reached out to him last offseason to thank him.

I am not the only gay person in the NFL,” Sam said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I’m just saying there is a lot of us. I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.

“Was it a risky move? Yes. But at that moment, the reason why I came out is I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal. Maybe I was naive. Maybe I thought it was 2014, and people will understand that there’s gay NFL players. There’s gay athletes everywhere. But I was clearly wrong. It was a huge deal.

“The players who have reached out to me and told me about their sexual orientation, it just means a lot. But I will never say anything about who they are, what teams they are [on]. I’m just saying there’s some famous people, and I’m not the only one.”

Of course, Sam’s not an NFL player at the moment, and after his subpar showing at last week’s veteran combine, he might not be one anytime soon. But he said he was confident he’d play this season, indicating a stint in the CFL might be in his future.

Sam had a stint on the Cowboys practice squad after the Rams cut him, and doesn’t have anything pending this season. He said he didn’t think the reason was his sexual orientation, but thinks his unemployment could be the reason others haven’t made the decision to come out.

“Hopefully I’m not being discriminated [against] because I’m gay,” Sam said. “I don’t believe that I’m being discriminated [against] because I’m gay. I just want to know if I’m truly not in the NFL, it’s because of talent. Let it be because of my talents. But you’ve got to prove that I can’t play this game. If you look at the film, clearly I can. So, I’ll leave it at that. . . .

“Dancing with the Stars is my employer. That’s my main source of income. … I’m unemployed, and I don’t believe I’m out of the NFL because I’m gay. But if it was a reason, it can hurt their livelihood, and you don’t want to take that chance.”

Regardless his personal life, Sam’s lack of prototype size and speed is the primary reason he doesn’t have a spot on an NFL roster at the moment. He was a good college pass-rusher (11.5 sacks and the SEC defensive player of the year), and a stint in Canada might help him put together enough game tape to get another shot at the NFL.

And if he does, perhaps others will join him in his openness.

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John Fox: Cutler will have to earn the job in an open competition

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears are on the hook to pay Jay Cutler a guaranteed $15 million this year and $10 million next year. But that doesn’t mean Cutler is their long-term starter. It doesn’t even mean Cutler is the Bears’ Week One starter.

Bears coach John Fox says Cutler will have to beat out Jimmy Clausen and David Fales if he’s going to be the starter because everyone on the roster will get an equal chance to earn the starting job.

It’s all an open competition,” Fox said, via CSNChicago.com. “Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and my experience in football, really in anything, it’s not where you start a competition; it’s where you finish it. But we’ve got to start the race with some kind of lineup. We have not discussed that in depth. We have not presented it to our players yet. I kind of have it in my brain and then they compete.”

Cutler was benched for Clausen late last season, but it’s awfully hard to believe that Clausen could win the starting job this year. Fox may say he wants everyone to compete in training camp, but the Bears aren’t paying Cutler all that money to hold a clipboard.

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Chiefs owner: We’re going to get Justin Houston signed

Justin Houston AP

Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston would love to leave Kansas City in free agency, but the franchise tag makes that a long shot. Which might be why Chiefs owner Clark Hunt is confident that in the end, Houston will stay where he is.

“He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back,” Hunt said. “We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

If Houston doesn’t want to play for the Chiefs, he can try to work something out with another team, although that would be hard to do because the Chiefs would have the right to match any offer, and would receive two first-round draft picks from Houston’s new team if they don’t match the offer. Houston could also sit out all of training camp and the preseason and then sign the franchise tender just before Week One and still make his full $13.1 million salary. And if Houston really doesn’t want to play for the Chiefs, he could wait until Week 10 to sign the franchise tag and play just six games while still accruing enough service to become a free agent again next year.

But Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said the team thinks things will work out with some patience, and Hunt echoed that.

“I’ve been very consistent in saying that we not only value Justin as a football player, that we not only value Justin as a person and leader, and we want him to be a Chief for life,” Hunt said. “And the negotiating process in these type of situations, as John has said, takes some patience. You just have to have patience. It will work out.”

The only question is whether Houston agrees. It takes two to sign a contract.

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Hearing over Hardy exhibits is postponed

Hardy AP

Next Tuesday, the dispute between the NFL and North Carolina prosecutors over documents introduced into last July’s trial in Greg Hardy’s criminal case had been scheduled to go to court.  That now won’t happen.

Via David Newton of ESPN.com, the two sides agreed to delay the effort.

“The hearing was postponed so that we could discuss an amicable resolution of our request for documents,” said Monroe Whitesides, Jr., a Charlotte lawyer hired to handle the case for the NFL.

The NFL wants to review the documents (possibly including photographs of the alleged victim’s possible injuries) before reaching a conclusion regarding Hardy’s punishment, if any, under the personal conduct policy.

Hardy spent 15 games last season on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list, receiving his full base salary while not playing.  The criminal charges against him were dismissed after the alleged victim failed to show up for a February jury trial; Hardy reportedly reached a civil settlement with her.

He signed last week with the Cowboys.  Owner Jerry Jones told PFT Live on Wednesday that the team received no indication regarding Hardy’s fate before adding him to the roster.

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More countries could be hosting regular-season games

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The NFL’s international series has focused in recent years on building a presence in London.  But that’s not the only foreign country in which the league is willing to ignore that “N” is for “National.”

Via Albert Breer of NFL Media, the league is considering the staging of regular-season games in Mexico and Germany, in addition to the recent suggestion that the 2017 Pro Bowl could be played in Brazil and ongoing efforts to play in Canada and China.

“The work we’re doing now is to ask, ‘How do we accelerate the agenda in Mexico, Canada and China?'” NFL executive V.P. of international Mark Waller told Breer.  “Those would be our next stage, and we have offices in those three countries.  And then, after those, where should be our focus?  I think we’ve concluded that Brazil and Germany are the next two frontier markets, which is where the Pro Bowl idea comes from.”

Ten years ago, more than 103,000 fans showed up for a Cardinals-49ers game in Mexico City, but the league has not yet played another game there.  Security concerns often have been cited as one of the reasons for no sequel, yet.

If the league decides to play games that count while playing three games per year (and possibly more) in London, the league will need more teams to give up home games.  Apart from the fairly new rule that teams hosting a Super Bowl must give up a home game, Breer points out that teams relocating to a new market must sacrifice one home game per year while playing in a temporary venue pending the construction of their new stadium.

This could give the NFL up to two extra exportable games per year for several seasons, if two teams move to L.A. in 2016.

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Jerry Jones believes Darren McFadden can be a difference maker

Raiders running back McFadden is tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Texans linebacker Reed during NFL game in Houston Reuters

The Cowboys let running back DeMarco Murray, a third-round pick in 2011, walk away via free agency.  They replaced him with running back Darren McFadden, the fourth overall selection in 2008.  Murray led the NFL in rushing last season, with a franchise-record 1,845 yards.  McFadden, in contrast, sputtered to a mere 534 yards in 2014.

So why do the Cowboys regard McFadden as a competent replacement?

“[Y]ou’ve got a good chance to not live up to expectations,” Cowboys owner and G.M. Jerry Jones told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio regarding the lackluster career of McFadden, who has only one 1,000-yard campaign in seven seasons.  “Because when you are drafted that high, people think that you are going to be the next Jimmy Brown.  So, yes he would have liked to have had a more productive career.  But the kinds of skills that got him drafted with the fourth pick in the draft, he still has.

“You worry about injury, but we were worried about injury with Murray.  In eight seasons, four in Oklahoma and four with the Cowboys, Murray only had two injury free seasons.  And so the position is one you have to take into consideration no matter what the skill level is, they take a lot of hits, lot of punishment, and you got a good chance to have an injury issue.  And that’s why we couldn’t make that kind of commitment of dollars to that position.”

The team’s position on not investing a lot of cash in an injury-prone position would also suggest that the Cowboys won’t make a play for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  But Jones wouldn’t confirm that Peterson won’t be a Cowboy.

“I get in enough trouble in a lot of areas anyway with this mouth but I’m not going to talk about that,” Jones said.

He doesn’t need to say it.  There’s no way the Cowboys will make a major financial investment in the tailback position with Adrian Peterson or anyone, hoping instead to get the most out of underpriced talent running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Regardless of how it works, it will be one of the great experiments of the 2015 season.

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