Mason Rudolph happy to be back with Steelers: Never say never in this league

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers
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Mason Rudolph expected to be somewhere else this season. He took the nameplate above his locker home with him as a souvenir after the 2022 season ended.

The quarterback, though, is back in the same building, in the same role, wearing the same jersey number.

The only thing that has changed is the location of his locker, which now temporarily has a hand-written piece of paper with his last name on it instead of a nameplate.

Rudolph entered free agency looking for a fresh start. Instead, he ended up back where it began, signing a one-year offer with the Steelers on May 17.

Never say never in this league,” Rudolph said, via Joe Rutter of

Rudolph made only two starts the past three seasons and dressed for only one game last season, taking no snaps. He wanted to go somewhere with a better opportunity to play, but no other team offered that chance.

Then, the Steelers called to “check the temperature.”

“I hadn’t really thought about [returning],” Rudolph said. “I mean, I had thought about it, but I can’t say I was seriously considering it. As time went on, I was sitting there. I didn’t really want to continue to wait. It was a long wait already.

“Here, you know the offense; you know the system. I felt pretty confident I’d have gotten some opportunity at a camp with a team who didn’t draft a rookie quarterback or a team that had a guy who didn’t impress. But you’re never guaranteed anything.”

Rudolph again is the No. 3 quarterback behind Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky, but he has the most experience in Matt Canada’s system. So, if nothing else, Rudolph will serve as a sounding board for Pickett.

Decision to take full DeAndre Hopkins cap hit in 2023 proves one thing: The Cardinals are tanking

NFL: AUG 12 Preseason - Cardinals at Bengals
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When the Cardinals surprisingly cut receiver DeAndre Hopkins on Friday, many assumed they did so with the post-June 1 designation. Per multiple reports, they didn’t. (Apparently, they couldn’t; J.J. Watt and Rodney Hudson already received the post-June 1 designation, and teams are limited to two per year.)

But the Cardinals could have simply waited until next week, cutting Hopkins after June 1 and splitting the cap hit evenly between 2023 and 2024, $11 million each year. Instead, the Cardinals removed the Band-Aid now, taking the full $22 million cap charge.

Despite what folks directly or indirectly on the team’s payroll are saying, there’s no reason to take their lumps now, unless they’re tanking. They could have saved $11 million in 2023 cap space by waiting one more week. And they could have rolled all of it over until 2024, if they had decided not to spend it this year.

Cutting him or trading him makes no difference. A pre-June 1 trade would have cost $22 million against the cap this year. Post-June 1 would have caused $11 million to hit the cap this year, and $11 million next year. They ultimately didn’t trade him because no one wanted to absorb his contract.

By cutting Hopkins now, the Cardinals removed the ability to spend the $11 million this year. It’s a pre-emptive exercise in parsimony. Cover for cheapness. No one will expect them to spend the $11 million if they don’t have it to spend, and they don’t have it to spend because they cut Hopkins this Friday instead of next Friday.

That’s the only explanation for it. They’re deliberately tightening the belt. They’re trimming $11 million off the top of their current-year cap allocation. They know they’re not going to be competitive this year, and they’re accepting it.

It’s no different than 2018, when they knew they were going to be bad and they accepted it — sinking to the bottom of the standings and rising to the top of the draft order. If they do it again, the 2024 offseason will become very interesting, with Kyler Murray potentially traded and Caleb Williams potentially drafted to be the latest would-be savior of the team.

Regardless of where it goes from here, there was no reason to tie their hands with the full Hopkins cap hit. No one knows who else might become available between now and Week One. The Cardinals aren’t interested. They don’t want to be interested. Otherwise, they would have waited a week and kept $11 million available, just in case.

Bottom line? They’re willing to be very bad in 2023, in the hopes of getting very good draft position in 2024, when they finally try to turn it around — again.

But, hey, at least they have new uniforms this year.

Budda Baker: I’ll be there when it’s time to be there

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals
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New Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon said earlier this week that safety Budda Baker will “show up when he wants to show up.” More accurately, Baker will show up when he HAS to show up.

Baker has not participated in the Cardinals’ offseason program after requesting a trade last month.

“Oh yeah, of course I’ll be there when it’s time to be there,” Baker told Cameron Cox of 12Sports in Baker’s first interview since his trade request. “When it’s time to be there, I’ll be there smiling and [be] the same regular guy that I am.”

Baker would face a fine of $16,459 for missing the first day of mandatory minicamp, $32,920 for missing a second day and $49,374 for the third.

He is owed $13.1 million this season and $14.2 million in 2024 from a four-year, $59 million extension he signed in 2020. It made him the highest-paid NFL safety at the time. But Baker has no guaranteed money left on his deal.

“For me personally, I’m just letting the business aspect handle the business aspect, letting my agent handle all that type of stuff,” Baker told Cox. “I’m continuing to have tunnel vision on my work ethic, being the best person I can be outside of football and just enjoying life. Enjoying this offseason, enjoying working hard each and every day, and just excited to go back and play football again.”

Baker has played his entire career in Arizona after the Cardinals made him a second-round pick in 2017. He earned Pro Bowl honors for the fifth time last season despite missing the final two games with a fractured shoulder.

Baker has spent the offseason training with Justin King at Built Better AZ.

“This whole offseason I’ve been focused on getting stronger and getting built better,” Baker told Cox. “I hate missing games. Being angry and being mad about not getting to play. That pissed me off. I want to never have a situation like that happen again.”

Kenny Pickett briefly had his SUV stolen, with his playbook in it

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Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett had a brief scare earlier this week.

The SUV that Pickett was using was stolen, Marcie Cipriani of WTAE reports. The team’s playbook was in the backseat.

The second-year player was making an appearance at a car dealership near Pittsburgh on Wednesday when the 2023 Genesis he was using was stolen from the parking lot.

It didn’t take police long to recover the vehicle and the playbook.

The suspect left his personal vehicle at the dealership, and police ran the license plate on the car to find him. The stolen car was recovered at the suspect’s house 30 minutes after it was taken.

A man was arrested in the theft.

Report: NFL is investigating another Lions player under the gambling policy

NFL: OCT 09 Lions at Patriots
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Last mouth, the NFL suspended four Lions players for violating the gambling policy. There could eventually be a fifth.

According to Kalyn Kahler of, the NFL is investigating a fifth player for violating the gambling policy. declined to name the player because the investigation is ongoing. That’s a sharp turn from the various media outlets that will routinely report on players facing violations of other policies before the investigations are final.

But Kahler writes that the player in question “was not a prominent member of the 2022 team.” He has yet to be interviewed by the league.

The fact that another Lions player is being investigated underscores the importance of teams properly educating players as to the gambling policy — and as to the serious consequences for violating it. In Detroit, four players failed and another one could be joining the list.

On Thursday, receiver Jameson Williams, who received a six-game suspension for violating the rule against gambling on team premises, said he did not know about the policy. The Lions presumably told him and his teammates about it. The challenge when doing so is to get them to understand that this isn’t basic, boring H.R.-type seminar material but a critical aspect of their ability to play pro football in the NFL.

Bucs expect Devin White for mandatory minicamp next month

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cowboys at Buccaneers
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Buccaneers linebacker Devin White is not attending the team’s organized team activities after asking for a trade.

Linebacker Lavonte David, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis, center Ryan Jensen, defensive tackle Vita Vea and receiver Mike Evans also were among those who skipped the voluntary offseason workouts this week, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“We had a good turnout, but again, it’s voluntary,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “I can express it all I want, but it’s voluntary. Certain guys have excuses. We know where they are, and we’ll go from there.”

White wants a long-term extension, which the Bucs don’t seem inclined to give him. He is making a point by staying away, but the Bucs expect him at the mandatory minicamp June 13-15, according to Stroud.

The maximum fine for missing the first day of mandatory minicamp is $16,459. It goes up to $32,920 for the second day and $49,374 for the third.

White is scheduled to make $11.7 million this season on the fifth-year option.

He led the team with 124 tackles last season and had 16 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 17 starts last season.

White, though, has made the Pro Bowl only once in four seasons.

The Bucs might want to play the wait-and-see game with White before signing him to anything close to the five-year, $100 million contract linebacker Roquan Smith signed with the Ravens.

Tampa Bay drafted SirVocea Dennis in the fifth round and signed Jeremy Banks as an undrafted free agent, and they have received more reps with White working out on his own.

“To be honest, we don’t really think about it, because we all understand it’s a business,” Bucs receiver Chris Godwin said of White’s absence. “You know Devin loves ball. You know what Devin brings to the table. But we also know it’s a business. However, if he feels like is the best way to go about it, that’s for him. But when he’s here, we expect him to work, and we know what he’s going to bring.”

Bears get permission to begin demolishing Arlington Park racetrack

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The Bears finalized their purchase of the Arlington Park racetrack earlier this year and they hope to build a new stadium on the site in the coming years.

One step toward making that happen is the demolition of the track and the team is set to start that process. Arlington Heights granted the team permission to start demolishing the interior of the track on Friday and a Bears spokesman said, via Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times, that the demolition work will begin next week.

The team will need separate permission from Arlington Heights and Cook County for exterior demolition.

The Bears have a lease at Soldier Field through 2033, but they can negotiate an earlier departure if construction moves forward at the Arlington Park site.

After three stints in concussion protocol, Akayleb Evans changing what he can to avoid any more

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Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans had three stints in concussion protocol during an eight-week period last season. The team ended his rookie season after the third, placing him on injured reserve Dec. 7.

Evans, though, is not concerned about a premature end to his career.

“I haven’t really thought about it like that,” Evans said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN. “I do know that if I ever got to a point where I felt like it was getting out of control, I would take a step back, because life is more important. But I don’t really worry about that too much, honestly.”

Evans isn’t sure what happened to land him in protocol in an Oct. 9 game, but he could have had a helmet-to-helmet hit while diving on an onside kick. The other two were obvious as he lowered his head on tackles against the Bills and the Jets.

Evans is working on tackle technique this offseason, aware that he has to stop leading with his head.

“It’s just about how I tackle,” Evans said. “My mindset when I tackle is always to be aggressive. But not every tackle has to be a kill shot. . . . Not every tackle has to be as hard as I can. Just being smart about that. But whenever I do go into making a tackle, just keeping my head out of it, being smart about it and intentional about it. So I’ve been working really hard on that.”

The 2022 fourth-round pick also is changing his equipment. He will wear a customized VICIS helmet, the best-performing brand on the NFL/NFLPA’s annual lab testing chart.

Evans also said he plans to wear a Q-Collar, a band that applies light pressure to the neck. The FDA has said it “may reduce the occurrence of specific changes in the brain that are associated with brain injury.”

The Vikings are counting on Evans this season after losing five of their cornerbacks from last season.

“I feel like I was able to show some flashes of what I could do last year,” Evans said. “I feel like this year is about taking over, for sure.”

Hendon Hooker is taking mental reps and learning by watching Jared Goff

NFLPA Rookie Premiere Portrait Session
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Hendon Hooker will take a “redshirt year” this season. The Lions rookie quarterback injured his left knee in a Nov. 19 game against South Carolina while playing for the University of Tennessee.

He underwent reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament soon after.

Hooker’s rehab has continued since the Lions drafted him in the third round.

“ACL’s doing good. Just taking it day by day, and just continuing to chip away and stack days,” Hooker said Friday on NFL Network. “I think one thing that I know for sure is that physically and mentally I’ve become a lot stronger through this process. But we don’t know when the day will come where I’m 100 percent. But when it does come, it’ll be a heartfelt moment for me, I know for sure, because of how much I miss the game and how much I miss competing.”

Besides rehabbing, Hooker is spending his time watching, learning and asking questions. Since he isn’t ready to take practice reps, Hooker is taking mental reps during organized team activities.

He is the heir apparent to veteran Jared Goff, who is helping Hooker nonetheless.

“Essentially, he’s an amazing quarterback,” Hooker said. “Just continuing to learn from him and watch him, watching his footwork, watching how he directs traffic, when he’s in the huddle, just taking command of the total offense. It’s amazing to see him operate, and one day I hope to be on that level and operate as efficient as he does.”

World Cup insistence on grass becomes key player point in turf debate

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Players want grass in all venues. Various NFL stadiums use artificial turf. The debate has not gotten much traction, yet.

As the U.S.-hosted 2026 World Cup approaches and as more people realize that stadiums like AT&T in Dallas and SoFi in L.A. will convert to grass fields for the soccer competition, more will ask why, if that can be done for soccer, it can’t be done for football?

When push comes to shove, sources connected to The Shield will point out (as they already are) that the World Cup surfaces will be a hybrid of grass and synthetic turf.

Fine, then why don’t the stadiums that currently use turf only permanently use the FIFA-required grass/synthetic hybrid for football, too?

Players who want all grass would surely settle for a grass/fake blend than all fake. Why not just keep the World Cup surface at AT&T Stadium and at SoFi Stadium?

The broader point is that, although owners like Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke won’t change surfaces because football players prefer grass, they’ll bend over backward when the soccer authority responsible for the World Cup demands grass, or at least a grass/turf hybrid.

The recent feature on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel hammers the point home. Grass is far safer than turf. Football players want to play on grass. Why in the hell won’t NFL owners provide them with grass, or at least a grass/turf hybrid?

As one source within the NFL bubble who believes in grass fields recently told PFT, the NFL will warp and twist statistics in order to preserve the status quo. The league doesn’t want to force owners to incur the expense of installing and maintaining grass — especially in venues where a significant re-engineering of the building would be necessary to permit it.

And so the NFL will continue to ignore the noise and hold the line and force players to deal with the hazards of artificial turf, even as more and more evidence surfaces regarding the relative safety, both as to injuries and overall wear and tear, of playing on a softer, more forgiving surface.

Put simply, it’s a problem the NFL won’t solve because the NFL refuses to acknowledge that there’s even a problem. The willingness of some owners to swap out turf-only fields for the World Cup will hopefully get so many people to recognize the problem that the league will have no choice but to finally concede that a problem exists.

Zach Allen picking J.J. Watt’s brain while trying to prove himself with Broncos

Denver Broncos OTAs
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Broncos defensive lineman Zach Allen won’t be lining up alongside J.J. Watt this season, but he’s hoping his former teammate keeps helping him produce on the field.

Allen signed a three-year, $45.75 million contract with Denver after spending the last four seasons with the Cardinals. Watt was his teammate for the last two seasons and Allen said he learned a lot from the three-time defensive player of the year.

Allen said he’s “still picking [Watt’s] brain for ideas” as he works to show that the Broncos were right to add him to their defense this season.

“It definitely was a brand new kind of experience but it worked out well for everybody involved, and it’s my time to prove it,” Allen said, via Chris Tomasson of the Denver Gazette.

Allen will be playing for the same defensive coordinator he had in Arizona as Vance Joseph returned to Denver after previously serving as their head coach, so the hope will be that a former teammate and a familiar coach can unlock the best from Allen.

Clint Hurtt confident the Seahawks defense will be much improved this season

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks
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The Seahawks finished 26th in total defense last season, including 30th in rushing defense. It was Clint Hurtt’s first year as a defensive coordinator.

Hurtt, though, expects his unit to be much improved this season.

I’m very confident,” Hurtt said, via John Boyle of the team website. “We’re going to be better. We’re going to improve.”

Bringing back Jarran Reed and Bobby Wagner was big for the Seahawks. They also added defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones, linebacker Devin Bush and safety Julian Love in free agency.

The Seahawks have not ranked in the top 10 in points allowed or yards allowed since 2016.

“I’m not going to get into all the stuff and say we’re going to do this do that,” Hurtt said. “I don’t get into all those things; the proof is in the pudding, and we’ll show that during the course of the year as we continue to progress. But I’m excited and appreciative about what John [Schneider] and Pete [Carroll] have put out here with us to work with. We’re a developmental staff, so we’ve got to get these guys up to speed and everything is going in the right direction right now.”

Davante Adams, Raiders, Chiefs sued by photographer he shoved after game in 2022

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The photographer who Davante Adams shoved has filed a lawsuit against the Raiders receiver as well as the Raiders and the Chiefs, the Kansas City Star reports.

Park Zebley filed the lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, saying he was diagnosed with concussion symptoms. He also claims he feared for his life, receiving death threats after his contact information was circulated online.

The suit also names the Jackson Sports Complex Authority and Landmark Event Staffing Services as defendants.

Following the 30-29 loss to the Chiefs at GEHA Field on Oct. 10, Adams pushed Zebley as he crossed paths with the 20-year-old. Zebley was a University of Missouri-Kansas City student carrying video equipment for a local production company contracted with ESPN to cover the game.

The incident was caught by television cameras.

He was charged with one count of misdemeanor assault in Kansas City municipal court, and his next appearance is scheduled for a hearing June 26.

“A municipal misdemeanor battery charge is not sufficient,” Zebley said in a statement to The Star. “I’m looking for justice. You can’t shove someone down and walk off like it didn’t happen. Not in real life.”

The NFL did not suspend Adams for the incident, which Adams was asked about Thursday before the filing of the lawsuit.

“I mean, I wouldn’t look at the KC incident as something that – I don’t want to say I didn’t learn from it because that makes it sound like I’m not remorseful and stuff like that — but it was just an instance,” Adams told reporters in Las Vegas. “It’s not something that I needed that to happen for me to know that was not the right thing to do. So, it was just something that happened.”

Adams apologized to Zebley after the incident.

Dak Prescott: Michael Gallup’s back to himself, will be better this season

Dallas Cowboys v Tennessee Titans
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Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup said recently that he “just feels different” this year than he did while returning from a torn ACL in 2022 and that he’s feeling “springy” as he goes through the team’s offseason program.

The change in circumstances has been noted by Gallup’s quarterback as well. Dak Prescott said this week that he sees Gallup moving back toward the form he had before he injured his knee during the 2021 season.

“Just for him to get into this offseason, get his body right and now just starting to come back into who Michael Gallup is and feel himself, I think what you just saw is a couple of plays right there of doing that consecutively,” Prescott said, via Todd Archer of “But that’s a guy that I’ve got a lot of trust in. I know who he is, and more importantly, how he works and comes to work each and every day to get better. He’s getting his feet under him and he’s going to be better.”

The Cowboys acquired Brandin Cooks this offseason and there’s high hopes that the trio of Cooks, Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb can help boost the offense to a higher level than it reached in 2022. Health will be a big part of that, so things are on the right track with Gallup.

Report: Josh Harris needs to adjust deal financing to secure NFL approval

NFL: JAN 01 Browns at Commanders
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The sale of the Commanders has sparked an extended rollercoaster ride of reporting, with news coming from every angle. Some is right, some is wrong.

Mike Ozanian of, who reported in December that Daniel Snyder had multiple offers for the team “well north” of $7 billion, now reports that Josh Harris needs to adjust the financing of the final deal to purchase the team, for $6.05 billion.

Ozanian also reports that some NFL owners are concerned about the structure of the deal, which has an extensive number of limited partners and a large amount of debt. The NFL’s current limit for debt tied to the purchase of a team is $1.1 billion. Per Ozanian, the Harris deal includes $1.1 billion in secured debt and $1 billion in unsecured debt.

I won’t pretend to understand the niceties of leveraged buyouts and other corporate devices to make deals happen. The bottom line is that if feels as if Harris has to really hustle to make the numbers work. It could be far better for the team if he had enough money to just write a check for 100 percent of the equity, like Jeff Bezos does.

That’s why Commanders fans, euphoric at the possibility of Snyder being gone, should be concerned. If Harris doesn’t have the money to easily buy the team, will he have the money to properly run the team?

The owners might be willing to look the other way because, one, they want Snyder out as well and, two, the good owners don’t mind the prospect of competing with teams that might struggle, for example, to sign free agents due to cash flow challenges.

That’s one fact that often gets overlooked when considering ownership dynamics. The good owners love the idea of having more than a few not-good owners in the mix.