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Aaron Donald not at OTAs as contract talks go on

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The Rams exercised their option on defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s contract for the 2018 season, but General Manager Les Snead said that a lucrative, long-term contract extension was “definitely coming.”

Snead also said that “whether he gets a raise or not,” Donald would show up and “do the things he does.” That wasn’t the case on Monday, the first day of the team’s Organized Team Activities.

Donald was not at the team’s practice, which is voluntary, and coach Sean McVay declined to discuss the reason for his absence beyond saying it was not related to an injury. Steve Wyche of NFL Media reports that “all indications” are that Donald is staying away for contract reasons and General Manager Les Snead seemed to confirm that while also saying that a deal may not be far off.

“We’re at the serious stages of renegotiating,” Snead said, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “I’m very hopeful this will get done.”

If a deal does get done, Donald will move way up the list of best-paid defensive players in the game and could nudge Broncos linebacker Von Miller out of the top spot once pen is put to paper.

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Reggie Bush still wants to play

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Reggie Bush had one of the worst seasons in NFL history last year, becoming the first running back ever to carry the ball more than 10 times and finish with negative rushing yardage. But he still thinks he has something to offer.

Bush, the free agent running back, told NFL Media he’s eager to sign with an NFL team and expects to be in the league in 2017.

“That’s my plan,” Bush said. “Going into year 12, I still feel like I have a lot left to prove, a lot left to give this game before I’m done. I don’t want to put a number on how many years I have left. I think once you get past year 10, you just gotta take it one year at a time and go from there. I’m still excited, still looking forward to playing football again this season, still staying in shape, still working out. I plan to be somewhere in September.”

Bush, who played in 13 games for the Bills last year and finished with 12 carries for negative three yards, said some teams are interested.

“I’ve spoken to a few teams, yes,” Bush said. “But I’m gonna be patient and make sure I make the right decision for me and for my family.”

The 32-year-old Bush was one of the most exciting players in college football history at USC and has had a solid if somewhat disappointing NFL career. It’s hard to believe he has much left, but he doesn’t want anyone else telling him he’s done.

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Derek Carr has “complete faith” contract will be done by camp

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Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is heading into the final year of the deal he signed after being drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft and that’s made an extension a major topic of conversation around the team this offseason.

A report last week described Carr as growing frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations for a new deal, which General Manager Reggie McKenzie responded to by saying the team will do everything they can in order to reach an agreement with their quarterback. For his part, Carr sounds like he’s OK with where things stand.

“I have an agent who is in charge of that and I am confident that he and Mr. McKenzie will work it out,” Carr said, via Anthony Galaviz of the Fresno Bee. “I am only focused on becoming a better football player and helping my teammates become better players. I have complete faith it will get done before training camp. These things take time. The Raiders know I want to be here; this is my family, and I know they want me to be their quarterback.”

There’s no deadline to getting a deal done until it becomes time to hand out franchise tags next year and even that would only leave the Raiders with the option of using it to buy even more time to talk about a long-term extension. That doesn’t mean it will take that long, but we’re well off from any point to worry about Carr moving on from Oakland.

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Seahawks, Falcons enter OTA season with fewer OTAs than others

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Organized Team Activities, a fancy, word-wasting synonym for “football practice,” begin Monday throughout the NFL. For two of the final eight teams from a year ago, however, three of the 10 practices won’t be happening.

Both the Seahawks and the Falcons lost a week of OTA sessions — three each — due to excessive contact during 2016 offseason workouts. While the extra aggression apparently worked, with both teams making it to the divisional round in the year the rules violations occurred, it’s now time to pay the fiddler via the forfeiture of important 2017 practice time.

For the Seahawks, the loss of OTAs included a forfeited fifth-round draft pick, a $400,000 fine for the team, and a $200,000 fine for coach Pete Carroll, given that it was their third violation of the offseason rules. The Falcons apparently lost only the practice time, with the league office opting not to fine the franchise or the head coach.

Contact is inevitable when 22 football players are put on a football field in football helmets with a football introduced into the mix. As the bottom of the 90-man roster constantly churns, players who don’t get the job done end up out of a job long before the total jobs get cut from 90 down to 53.

And so football coaches are expected to get football players to operate against every football instinct they possess. It’s amazing that more violations don’t occur, and it’s likely that the NFL and the NFLPA tolerate a certain amount of contact during offseason workouts because a certain amount of contact is unavoidable.

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Buccaneers sign O.J. Howard

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Another first-round pick has signed his first NFL contract.

Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard became the latest addition to the list on Monday. The team announced that Howard has signed his four-year deal, which, like all deals for first-round picks, grants them an option for a fifth season.

Howard caught 114 passes for 1,726 yards and performed well as a blocker in the running game for Alabama before showing off his speed at the Scouting Combine. That led some to project Howard as a top 10 pick, but he wound up going 19th overall to the Buccaneers.

That short drop likely came as a pleasant surprise to Jameis Winston, who will now have Howard at tight end to go with wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson in the passing game.

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Mike Zimmer will miss some OTAs after eighth eye surgery

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Vikings coach Mike Zimmer disclosed over the weekend that he recently had an eighth surgical procedure on his right eye. On Monday, Zimmer has disclosed that the development will cause him to miss some of the team’s OTA sessions.

Zimmer told Paul Allen of KFAN that the fourth-year coach will miss an undetermined number of offseason practice sessions while he rests at home following the latest operation.

“As the Vikings begin OTA practices, Coach Zimmer will be taking time away from the team to dedicate to recovering from eye surgery and restoring his health,” the Vikings said in a statement. “We all agree Mike’s health is the priority and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term. We anticipate Mike back on the field in a few weeks.”

The OTA process represents the culmination of the offseason program, during which much of the offense and defense for the coming season is installed. Apart from the impact of Zimmer’s absence on this preparations, the situation will serve for any of the players who were on the roster last year as a reminder of one of the most bizarre and disappointing seasons in team history.

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New overtime rule could let receiving team win with just a field goal

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When the NFL changed its overtime rule in 2012, it was supposed to guarantee both teams the ball, unless the team that received the overtime kickoff scored a touchdown on its first possession. But as the NFL prepares to change its overtime rule again, that “guarantee” is no longer so solid.

The league is expected this week to shorten overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. That means that if the team that receives the opening kickoff marches into field goal range on a long, sustained drive, it could just try to run out the clock until there’s a second or two left in the game, send out the field goal team and win the game with a kickoff at the end of a 10-minute opening possession.

Granted, 10-minute possessions are rare, but they’re not unheard of: According to Pro Football Reference, since 1999 there have been 29 possessions that took 10 or more minutes off the clock and ended in a field goal. An additional seven possessions that took 10 or more minutes off the clock ended in a missed field goal.

There’s never been a 15-minute possession (the longest drive of any kind in the Pro Football Reference database lasted 12:29), so this wasn’t a concern with the longer, 15-minute overtime. But with a 10-minute overtime, it’s a real possibility that a receiving team could win with a field goal, and the kicking team never gets the ball.

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Celebration rule change of some sort coming

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The celebration rules, they are a-changing. It’s still unclear what they’ll be a-changing to.

Despite an expectation in the days preceding the annual meeting in March that changes of some sort would be made to the rules regarding player celebrations, the rules never changed. In fact, the topic never even came up again.

It’s coming up now. Via Peter King of TheMMQB.com, the ownership meeting set for Tuesday in Chicago will result in changes to the current 15-yards-and-a-five-figure-fine punishment for things that currently are forbidden. But it remains unclear what will and won’t be allowed, and what the consequence will be for doing something that will, when things change, be forbidden.

Currently, players are prohibited from: (1) going to the ground when celebrating; (2) celebrating in a group; and (3) using the ball as a prop. King points out that maneuvers like shooting the ball through the uprights as if they’re a basketball hoop (which Washington tight end Vernon Davis did a year ago) will be allowed. It’s still not clear what won’t be allowed.

We’ve argued in the past that, whatever the rules may be, the sanction should be a fine and not a penalty. This allows the league office to carefully consider whether a violation occurred, without requiring the officials to determine in the heat of the moment whether (or not) to take out the flag and tilt the playing field by 15 yards.

As noted by King, Commissioner Roger Goodell, his staff, and a “large group of players” met twice this offseason to discuss the issue. Based on King’s report, it sounds as if, at a minimum, the prohibition on using the ball as a prop will go away. Still, there will be a line, somewhere; in Super Bowl XLIX, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin used the ball as a prop in one very specific (and some would say hilarious) way, which the league surely doesn’t want to endorse or embrace.

So whatever they decide to do on Tuesday in Chicago, the new rules need to be clear, and they need to be consistently enforced. Discretion should be at a minimum for the officials. Ideally, the officials won’t be involved at all, with the downside of a downright inappropriate celebration being a postgame fine, not an in-game penalty.

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Calvin Johnson: “Of course” I had concussions I hid from the doctors

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Calvin Johnson was a quiet guy during his playing career, but he has plenty to say in retirement.

Johnson, the former Lions receiver who said yesterday that he didn’t like how the team treated him when he retired, also had some interesting things to say about concussions.

Asked if he ever concealed a concussion from team doctors, Johnson answered, “Of course.”

They’re going to dispute that, but anytime you black out, anytime you hit the ground and everything is stars and stuff, any time your brain hits your skull, that’s a concussion,” Johnson said, via the Detroit Free Press. “No matter how severe it is, it’s a concussion. Now granted, some people get nausea. That’s a severe concussion when you get hit like that and you get nausea and stuff like that. But if you play football long enough [you’re going to have concussions].”

Tom Brady’s wife said last week that he had a concussion last season, which the NFL says was never diagnosed. Johnson said players frequently don’t get diagnosed by team doctors because they don’t want to miss any playing time.

“Guys get concussions, they don’t tell the coaches,” Johnson said. “It happens. I don’t tell the coach sometimes cause I know I got a job to do. The team needs me out there on the field. And sometimes you allow that to jeopardize yourself, but that’s just the nature of the world.”

As the NFL has mandated removing players from games when they suffer concussions, an unintended consequence is that players who don’t want to leave a game won’t seek medical help if they feel concussion symptoms. Johnson knows that first hand.

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Report: Alterraun Verner out of shape in workout for Jaguars

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Former Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner is one of the few remaining available players in our Free Agent Hot 100. So why is he still available?

It may be that he’s out of shape. The Florida Times-Union reports that Verner worked out for the Jaguars but didn’t look good.

He was a little out of shape. Word is they will do a do-over,” the paper quoted an unnamed source as saying.

The 28-year-old Verner was a Pro Bowler for the Titans in 2013 and signed a four-year, $26.5 million contract with the Buccaneers in 2014. He was released this offseason after three years in Tampa.

The Jaguars’ top three cornerbacks are Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and Aaron Colvin. Verner could provide some veteran depth, if he can get into good enough shape that the Jaguars want to sign him.

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Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo says he’s ready to compete for his job

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Ordinarily, when a team trades up in the second round to draft a player, that player’s roster spot is safe for at least a couple years. But Roberto Aguayo is no ordinary second-year player.

Aguayo, the kicker the Buccaneers drafted last season, had a terrible rookie year and will have to compete with veteran Nick Folk for the kicking job. He says he embraces that.

It is motivation,” Aguayo told PewterReport.com. “When I was in college there would be walk-on kids come in and I didn’t know who they were or if they were good or whatever. But whoever they were, it was always a competition for me. Just seeing someone else out there trying to compete. I like it.”

Aguayo said he thinks both he and Folk will benefit from the pressure of a camp competition.

“I look at it like playing golf,” Aguayo said. “When you go out there playing by yourself you are playing to shoot par or shoot your best, but when you have someone else out there it’s like, ‘Well he hit a good shot so I want to hit a good shot.’ So it is good motivation for both of us and it is just going to make both of us better. And the better one will come out on top.”

The Bucs’ decision to draft Aguayo was widely criticized at the time and will be criticized even more if he can’t beat out Folk this summer. He sounds confident that he can vindicate the team’s faith in him.

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Leonard Fournette only rookie to avoid offsets, so far

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The numbers are trickling in regarding the contracts signed by the players selected three weeks ago in the draft. In the top 10, half have signed their deals. Only one has avoided the oft-contentious offset language.

The Jaguars gave running back Leonard Fournette, the fourth pick in round one, a fully-guaranteed contract with no offset language. At this point, it’s no longer about the selection slot; whether offset language will appear in the contract depends on the team. The Jaguars, even with new-boss-old-boss Tom Coughlin running the show, are one of the few to not worry about how the worst-case scenario of a top-10 picking being cut within the first four years will be cleaned up financially. If it all goes to hell in a handwarmer, the player gets his money from the Jaguars, along with whatever someone else will pay him.

The Browns do worry about the worst case; the deal signed by defensive end Myles Garrett, the first overall pick, includes offset language. Ditto for the other top-10 picks who have signed: Chargers receiver Mike Williams (No. 7); Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (No. 8); and Bengals receiver John Ross (No. 9).

For Williams, who is represented by the same firm (CAA) that held out Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa last year in part due to the offset issue, the compromise came from guaranteed roster bonuses due on the fifth day of training camp in 2018, 2019, and 2020. (The Texans applied the same approach to quarterback Deshaun Watson, the twelfth overall pick, paying fifth-day-of-camp roster bonuses in lieu of removing offset language.)

This approach gives the player a sliver of protection by paying out a significant chunk of cash roughly a month before final roster cuts. Offsets aren’t an issue as to money that already has been paid; by pushing compensation from base salary into an early-camp roster bonus, the player can essentially double dip.

The only risk from this technique arises from the potential voiding of the guarantee by a suspension coupled with the possible placement of the player on the Non-Football Injury/Illness list to start training camp. While in theory a rare combination of events, it happened last year to former Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan, wiping out $1.7 million.

UPDATE 12:05 p.m. ET: Per a source with knowledge of the various contracts, the Bosa and Williams deals include language guaranteeing payment of the training-camp roster bonuses even if the players are on active/NFI. Watson’s deal does not contain that same language.

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Mike Zimmer: We have strong support system for Michael Floyd

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Michael Floyd will be able to serve the rest of the house arrest sentence he received for last year’s DUI arrest in Minnesota, which means the wide receiver will be able to join the Vikings for workouts.

Coach Mike Zimmer called that an “important” development for the free agent acquisition because it will give him more time than expected to work with the Vikings before the start of the season. Zimmer also believes the team has the right kind of system in place to ensure Floyd avoids further trouble.

“We understand [his legal history]. We always try to weigh every situation,” Zimmer said, via ESPN.com. “But you know, he’s from here. I think he has a good support system with [former Notre Dame teammates] Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph, partly. A lot of those things were factored into it.”

If things go as the Vikings hope, Floyd will be part of a passing game that can move beyond the steady diet of short stuff that helped Sam Bradford’s completion percentage more than it helped on the scoreboard.

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Falcons think they’ll work out a new deal with Devonta Freeman

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Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, and he’s made it clear he wants to be paid like an elite running back. The Falcons think they can accommodate that.

Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio that he wants Freeman around and thinks he will be around.

“We want him here and he’s a very important part of our organization,” Dimitroff said. “We’re ready in the relatively near future to have some discussions with their representation.”

Dimitroff said that he thinks talks will heat up in training camp.

“We want him to be around for years to come and we’re confident we’ll be able to get it done,” he said. “Usually going into camp is when you start talking.”

With Tevin Coleman as a capable backup and this year’s fifth-round draft pick Brian Hill in the mix at running back as well, the Falcons don’t necessarily feel a dire need to get a deal with Freeman done. But they have a nucleus of players they want to keep together, and Freeman is part of it.

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Calvin Johnson didn’t like how the Lions treated him when he retired

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One of the greatest players in Lions franchise history doesn’t feel great about the franchise now.

Calvin Johnson, the wide receiver who retired a year ago, said today that he’s not thinking about having his number retired and isn’t thinking much about the Lions at all these days.

“I don’t even like to talk Lions too much just because the way our relationship ended,” Johnson told the Detroit Free Press. “If they see me around here, we’ll see. But hey, I don’t know. I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out. That’s all. I mean, it’s all good. I’m not tripping. I don’t feel any kind of way, just hey, that’s what they did. Hey, it is what is.”

Asked to elaborate on how he was mistreated, Johnson declined.

“I mean, it’s simple,” he said. “It’s simple. It’s easy when you think about it.”

Johnson may be referring to the Lions’ decision to force Johnson to re-pay part of his signing bonus when he retired with a year left on his contract. When a player retires with time left on his contract, teams are allowed to require him to pay back a prorated portion of his signing bonus. But teams sometimes waive that right as a gesture of goodwill toward a valued member of the franchise. Johnson may have felt slighted when the Lions told him he had to pay up.

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