League finds Bills didn’t violate injury reporting policy with Jerry Hughes

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The Bills are off the hook.

According to Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com, the NFL has found no wrongdoing on the team’s part, after investigating whether they violated the league’s injury reporting policy regarding Jerry Hughes.

Hughes said after the season he had played with torn wrist ligaments, and had surgery last week. But he was never mentioned on any of the team’s injury reports with a wrist problem.

“The NFL confirmed that the matter was reviewed and there was no violation of the injury report policy,” the league told the Buffalo chapter of the PFWA in a statement.

Hughes missed some practices with what was listed as a groin injury and for veteran rest days, but no mention of the wrist problem was ever made.

The veteran defensive end hasn’t missed a game in any of the last eight seasons.

Christian McCaffrey “extremely excited” about Joe Brady hire

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The Panthers will have a first-time NFL head coach and a first-time NFL offensive coordinator for the 2020 season, but one of the team’s top players doesn’t believe that will keep them from having a successful year.

Running back Christian McCaffrey said you “see rookies come into the NFL all the time and have great years,” so he believes it can be the same for coaches. Based on what he saw from Brady at LSU, McCaffrey thinks the chances of hitting the ground running on offense are pretty good.

“He’s able to utilize not just me, but everybody,” McCaffrey said, via ESPN.com. “And put everybody in a position they can best help the team win. That’s something that’s not easy to do. It’s not one system. It’s a constant changing. You look at what he did with the LSU program this year, possibly the greatest college team of all times. It was fun to watch as an outsider before I knew he was our coach. Now that I know he is [the Panthers’ coach], I’m extremely excited.”

It will be some time before there’s a chance to see how the offense will look under Brady and there’s an open question about who will be playing quarterback, but McCaffrey is going to be playing a big role however things play out in Carolina this year.

Pro Bowlers pay tribute to, reflect on Kobe Bryant

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Like most in the sports world and beyond, the participants in yesterday’s Pro Bowl were stunned to hear the news about basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s death.

And even after they remembered him on the field, it was hard for some to talk about him.

Via Mark Long of the Associated Press, Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith suggested to players that they could honor Bryant by portraying his fadeaway jumper after big plays. Smith and Lions cornerback Darius Slay and Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaq Barrett did just that after a second quarter sack.

“I don’t even want to talk about it anymore,” Smith said in the locker room after the game. “I don’t want to get emotional.”

Slay, who grew up idolizing the Lakers star, had no problem doing just that.

“It’s heart-wrecking,” Slay said through tears. “There’s not any words you can say. I’m in shock. I just imagine him growing old, being part-owner of the Lakers and having a future son I could cheer for next. It’s just shocking. Me saying the words ‘Kobe’s gone,’ that’s just crazy.”

Bryant, his daughter, and seven others died in a helicopter crash Sunday. Our thoughts are with their families and friends  at this time.

Fletcher Cox: I definitely haven’t hit my ceiling

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Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had one of the highlights of Sunday’s Pro Bowl when he took a lateral from Vikings safety Harrison Smith and took it 61 yards for a touchdown.

Cox feels there are a lot of big plays to come in his future. He just wrapped up his eighth season and will turn 30 this year after failing to make first- or second-team All-Pro for the second time in the last six years, but said that he believes he’s still rising as a player.

“I definitely haven’t hit my ceiling, man,” Cox said, via Zach Berman of TheAthletic.com.

Cox was expected to team up with Malik Jackson on the interior of the Eagles defensive line, but Jackson went down for the year in the season opener. He thinks putting the tandem together is “really going to show a difference” on the field once the Eagles get back to business.

49ers were willing to wait a month to begin Jimmy Garoppolo era

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The 49ers found their quarterback in the middle of the 2017 season, trading for Jimmy Garoppolo on Oct. 31.

The fact they waited a month to play him was a sign of coach Kyle Shanahan’s commitment to getting it right.

49ers CEO Jed York told Matt Maiocco of NBCSportsBayArea.com that Shanahan was hesitant to throw Garoppolo onto the field for a winless team until he was acclimated and ready.

“When we made the trade in the middle of the season, Kyle was probably the most conservative with it,” York said. “Everybody from Mandy Shanahan [Kyle’s wife] to all our fans were ready for him to start Day One.

“But we had to make sure that we did it the right way. And we didn’t do something just because it was going to get the fans fired up. We wanted to put Jimmy in the right situation to be successful.”

The 49ers would lose their first nine games of the 2017 season, but even when they traded for the then-Patriots backup quarterback, Shanahan told him he might not take a snap that season. The plan was to give him time, knowing they had the franchise tag in their pocket to control his rights for 2018, when they could hopefully create a more viable platform.

It was Week 13 when Shanahan finally relented, and Garoppolo won his final five starts, which led the 49ers to not need the tag, as York signed off on a five-year, $137.5 million contract.

“If you don’t have a quarterback who can win in big games and big moments, it’s really, really hard to get to this point,” York said. “And Jimmy, obviously, exceeded any expectations in those games that you could ever ask for a player coming into an organization.

“And he’s continued to improve, he’s continued to work, he’s continued to get better. If you don’t have a quarterback, to me, you just don’t have a chance. It was a must.”

They clearly felt like they had their guy, and that waiting was the right call.

Andy Reid on how SB win would affect legacy: It is what it is

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Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s teams have won 207 regular season games over the course of his career and they’ve gone 14-14 over 15 trips to the postseason.

One of those playoff visits with the Eagles ended with a loss in the Super Bowl, but Reid didn’t get back to the game until this year. That gives him a second chance at winning a ring that many feel is the only thing missing from his coaching resume.

Peter King spent time with Reid for this week’s Football Morning in America, including a 3 a.m. trip to the Chiefs facility for Reid to start his working day. During that ride, King asked Reid if the outside view about the Super Bowl was something that he gave much thought to while preparing to face the 49ers.

“You just took the drive that I take every day and there’s nothing to the outside world right there,” Reid said. “It’s calm, it’s dark, and then I go in this building and I study. Then when I leave it’s dark. It’s calm, and I go home and sleep and rest and then come back and do it again. That to me, is what’s real. That’s what I enjoy. I don’t worry about the other stuff. I don’t go there. Everybody’s gonna have their opinion on whether you can coach or can’t coach. Or this or that. I’ve been doing it a long time. Loved every minute. I love the relationships maybe most of all. I love putting the strategy together with my young coaches. I get in there and grind with them. I got some great minds that love to study and be creative. Everything else? Eh. It is what it is.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone who thinks Reid can’t coach simply because he hasn’t won a Super Bowl, but there’s little doubt that adding a Super Bowl to his long list of other NFL accomplishments would push Reid even higher on the list of the league’s greatest coaches.

Chiefs G.M. fell for Patrick Mahomes during a blowout loss

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Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach had liked Patrick Mahomes for some time.

The day it turned into love might have been during a 66-10 loss to Iowa State in 2016.

Veach told Peter King of NBC’s Football Morning in America that the Texas Tech quarterback’s resilience that day cemented his respect, and led the Chiefs to target a guy that not many were expecting.

Mahomes had been knocked out of the game early with a shoulder injury, and his team trailed 45-3 at halftime, in what would be his next-to-last college game. Veach was about to leave Ames, Iowa for the day, when he said Mahomes warming up for the second half.

“Now you look back and you see how meaningful that was,” Veach said. “In the Denver game this year, his kneecap pops out, and the son of a buck wants to go back in the game!”

Mahomes rebounding from this year’s knee injury — missing two games and needing time to look like his mobile self again — was one of the big reasons the Chiefs are in position to be in Miami this week.

And though Veach had been high on the toolsy quarterback for more than a year, it took him some time to convince Reid.

“At one point that December [2016],” Veach said, “I remember Coach calling me into his office and showing me a [Mel] Kiper/[Todd] McShay mock first round. He said, ‘Your guy’s not even in the first round!’ They didn’t have Patrick in the round. I just said, ‘Coach, it’s perfect! Don’t worry. You don’t want him on these lists now. It sets up perfect for us.’ “

So the Chiefs went into spy mode, with Reid saying Veach “CIA’d the whole thing.” They didn’t go to his pro day workout, or spend a lot of time talking to Texas Tech coaches to signal interest.

Then they traded up with Buffalo to the 10th spot and found their guy, a guy who would quickly lead them to the Super Bowl.

Chiefs show up in Hawaiian shirts, even if Andy Reid doesn’t

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None of them wore it quite like Andy Reid does.

But some of the Chiefs showed up for the Super Bowl dressed as their head coach anyway.

Via Adam Teicher of ESPN, a number of Chiefs players were donning Reid’s signature Hawaiian shirts when they arrived in Miami yesterday.

Reid’s famous for the relaxed look, though he got off the plane from Kansas City wearing a suit and looking like a banker.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, and safety Tyrann Mathieu were among the players wearing them, paying tribute to the man who led them to this tropical destination.

Report: Ravens will listen to trade offers for Matthew Judon

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The Ravens say they want to keep defensive end Matthew Judon, but they apparently are willing to listen to offers as well.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Ravens are considering using the franchise tag on Judon and then listening to trade offers.

Last year might have created the template for such deals, with the Chiefs trading Dee Ford to the 49ers for a second-round pick, then sending a first and a third to the Seahawks, along with a future second-rounder for Frank Clark and a third-rounder. Both pass-rushers then parlayed new homes into new long-term contracts.

They would argue the deals were worth it, as those two teams are playing Sunday in the final game of the year.

The 27-year-old Judon had a career-high 9.5 sacks last season and made his first Pro Bowl.

Earlier this month, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the goal was to re-sign Judon, but acknowledged it would be “very hard.”

Former Jaguars safety Donovin Darius arrested, hospitalized after DUI stop

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Former Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius was arrested on Sunday afternoon and charged with driving under the influence.

According to Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com, Darius was also hospitalized under the authority of the Baker Act for a mental health evaluation after “ingesting numerous pills” following the arrest.

The Baker Act is the common term for the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 which allows for an individual to be involuntarily institutionalized “if that individual possibly has a mental illness or is danger of harming themselves or others.”

Darius played 10 seasons in the NFL with nine of those years coming with the Jaguars and one with the Miami Dolphins. He appeared in 118 career games with 117 starts. He intercepted 14 passes with seven forced fumbles along with two sacks. He was the 25h overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft out of Syracuse.

The DUI charge is a misdemeanor.

Trial run of possible onside kick replacement ends in Kirk Cousins interception

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With the success rates of onside kicks plummeting, the NFL debuted a trial run of a possible alternative in the Pro Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

Instead of an onside kick, an offense would have the chance to convert a fourth-and-15 from their own 25-yard line in an attempt to keep possession.

With the NFC trailing 38-33 following a Davante Adams touchdown, Pete Carroll kept the offense on the field to test the rule out in an effort to maintain possession. Kirk Cousins took a shot up the right sideline trying to find Kenny Golladay as he was double covered. Earl Thomas picked off the pass with laterals to Marlon Humphrey and Matthew Judon ensuing on the run back before Judon was ruled stopped.

The AFC took over possession from the spot Judon was ruled down at the NFC 35-yard line. The play was not treated like a two-point conversion with the clock stopped. The clock continued to run and the AFC took over possession at the end of the return.

Any changes to the rule would require an affirmative vote by three-fourths of the league’s owners.

C.J. Mosley on pace to be ready for offseason work

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The Jets only had linebacker C.J. Mosley in the lineup for two games in his first season with the team, but Mosley said he’s on track to start his second year on better footing.

Mosley suffered a groin injury in the season opener, returned for Week Seven and then went right back onto the shelf. He was placed on injured reserve in December and had surgery to repair the injury.

“It was pretty difficult, especially when I hit that target point where I thought I was going to be ready to play,” Mosley said.

Mosley told Jeanne Coakley of SNY that he’s “feeling well” and has started jogging “a little bit” six weeks after having surgery. He also said that he’s on pace to be an active participant in the team’s offseason work and keeping Mosley on the field would be a good step toward improving on 2019’s results for the Jets.

Richard Sherman on Jimmy Garoppolo critics: “Idiots sound like idiots at this point”

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Most players get criticized for things they do. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been criticized lately over something he didn’t do. As in he hasn’t thrown the ball very much during the past six quarters of football.

The circumstances that led to the run-heavy offense — several near misses against the Vikings in the divisional round — have fed the perception that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan became freaked out by the potential for turnovers and opted to run the ball until the running game is stopped. Against the Vikings in the third and fourth quarter and against the Packers in the entire game, the running couldn’t be stopped.

Which is good for the 49ers, but not great for Garoppolo. Especially if, in the Super Bowl, there’s yet another Bob Griese game plan.

In an interview with Tyler Dunne of BleacherReport.com, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was asked about the criticism of Garoppolo, not for doing something wrong but for doing nothing.

Idiots sound like idiots at this point,” Sherman said.

So is it good if the quarterback doesn’t have to throw the ball?

“Once again, it’s people telling you how to win,” Sherman said. “Like, ‘Hey, we don’t care that you’re winning by double digits every game. You’re not winning the way we want you to. So let’s criticize him.'”

That’s fine. But if the running game isn’t there, Garoppolo will need to win with his arm. Is Sherman confident that Garoppolo can do it?

“We’re the No. 1 seed going into the Super Bowl,” Sherman said. “We’re as confident as we’re going to be.”

The not-so-subtle dodge isn’t surprising. At this point, it’s not known how Garoppolo will handle the kind of pressure that comes from a season riding on a drive or a decision or a throw because he hasn’t had to face that kind of heat. And he may not have to next Sunday.

If he does, it will make for a more interesting Super Bowl. Whatever the outcome.

49ers’ Mike Person was cut by three Super Bowl teams before finally making it

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San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Person will arrive in Miami today to play in his first Super Bowl, after three near misses.

Person, who has been on the rosters of six different franchises in his NFL career, was previously cut by the 49ers in 2012, the Seahawks in 2013 and the Falcons in 2016. All three teams went on to go to the Super Bowl.

This year, Person is a starter for the 49ers, so he can feel confident he’s not going to be a surprise Super Bowl week release. He’ll play in Super Bowl LIV.

“Yeah,” Person told the San Francisco Chronicle, “this feels pretty good.”

Person has felt the sting of watching his former teams on Super Bowl Sunday, and although he roots for the friends he made, it doesn’t feel good to miss out on it.

“With Atlanta, I had a lot of really good buddies,” Person said. “And I was cheering for them, obviously. But it was just kind of bittersweet. On one hand, you want to see your buddies be really successful. On the other hand, it’s ‘I could be part of that.’ And you feel like you should be a part of that.”

Now former teammates in several cities will be cheering for Person in the Super Bowl.

The Bill Belichick trade turns 20 on Monday

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When Tom Brady met Robert Kraft in 2000, the sixth-round rookie said to the billionaire owner of the Patriots, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.” That’s debatable, and the debate could be settled, starting this year.

Three months before using a sixth-round pick to get Brady, they used a first-round pick to get coach Bill Belichick, who had become via contractual ascension the coach of the Jets when Bill Parcells decided to step down. Belichick resigned, and Kraft wanted to hire Belichick. Kraft did.

Here’s some of the press conference from following the trade, which was made 20 years ago tomorrow.

As noted by Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, the Patriots included a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick in 2001, getting back from the Jets a 2001 fifth-round pick and a 2002 seventh-round selection. The fact that Belichick remains employed as the team’s head coach — the longest current tenure of any coach with the same team other than Sean Payton, who was hired by the Saints six years later — underscores the value of the transaction. Especially with the six Super Bowl wins and the nine Super Bowl appearances in 20 seasons.

But the 20th anniversary of Belichick’s arrival and the 20th anniversary of Brady’s arrival could be the two slices of Wonder bread on a something-on-a-shingle-without-the-shingle sandwich. Brady’s contract expires in March, and if he wants to leave he can. If he does, and for every year that he plays with another team, data points will emerge on the question of whether Brady or Belichick was the best decision the organization has ever made.