Packers G.M. knows flexibility is key in scouting this year

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At the moment, NFL scouting departments can’t be sure they’re going to have anything to scout in the fall.

So as they prepare for the uncertainty, the premium is on being able to adapt.

Via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst said his first priority is keeping his scouts on the road safe, at a time when travel is risky because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The question then becomes what will they be looking, and when.

“As far as our scouting staff goes I think we’re kind of prepared on a number of different fronts to attack this,” Gutekunst said. “But I think we have to be very flexible, too, because things will change and we’re going to prepare.

“There’s going to be a draft, we’re going to have to acquire players, so we’re just going to have to do it a few different ways.”

With the status of games up in the air, Gutekunst can’t be sure he and his scouts will have games or practices to watch, and will spent more time on 2019 game film. The possibility of a spring season complicates that further, since many top prospects may skip that to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft (currently scheduled for April 29-May 1).

He was asked if he could see the league holding more combines, perhaps in December, for players who opted out this year, and he didn’t rule it out.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we got down to that December area where you might see something like that, different kind of combines or workouts we’ll be able to attend,” he said. “The work those guys are going to have to do from an evaluation aspect, and also the background information and all the character information we rely on those guys so much for, all that is still going to be required.

“So, they’re going to have their work cut out for them. They’re just going to have to do it in some different ways. But it’s all still going to have to be done before we get to the time next year when the draft is.”

And until the college game decides what it’s going to do, Gutekunst can’t be sure what his job will look like this fall either.

Vikings waive Cameron Smith but will place him on NFI after he clears

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The Vikings waived linebacker Cameron Smith with a non-football injury designation, but the move is a procedural one.

The team announced once Smith clears waivers, the Vikings will place him on their non-football injury/illness list. It assures Smith will receive his full base salary of $675,000, a move the Vikings didn’t have to make but obviously the right one based on Smith’s circumstances.

Smith announced Saturday he will miss the 2020 season after open-heart surgery. A positive COVID-19 test on July 29 revealed a heart defect.

Smith, who appeared in five games as a rookie, said on social media he plans to play in 2021.

“We’ve talked a little bit,’’ Vikings special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said Monday, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “I think he’s very confident. I don’t want to speak for him as far as what he feels and stuff, but he seems like he’s in a good place. I told him if he’s around the [team facility this season], ‘Be another coach,’ because he’s a really good student of the game, a very sharp guy. I think the arrow’s up for him from a mental perspective and everything, and now he has to take care of himself.’’

Smith’s departure from the roster leaves tackle Oli Udoh as the lone Vikings player on the COVID-19 list. Tomasson reports Udoh tested positive for the coronavirus but is doing well and could come off the list as soon as Tuesday.

Dolphins claim TE Nate Wieting

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The Dolphins added another tight end to their roster on Monday.

According to multiple reports, they claimed Nate Wieting off of waivers from the Browns. The undrafted rookie was dropped from the Cleveland roster when they signed guard Michael Dunn on Sunday.

Wieting caught 10 passes for 117 yards during his final season at Iowa. That was his lone season as a starter as 2019 first-round picks T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were playing for the Hawkeyes during his earlier years at the school.

Miami made a trade with Chicago for Adam Shaheen recently and they also have Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Chandler Cox and Chris Myarick on the roster at tight end.

Julian Edelman: Cam Newton’s got “great energy”

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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman touched on the team’s former quarterback when he had his first meeting with reporters of training camp on Monday and he also talked about the guys trying to replace Tom Brady.

Cam Newton is the newest addition to that group and, unlike Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, has never been a teammate of Edelman’s in the past. Edelman got a chance to work out with Newton before the start of training camp and shared some of his early impressions of the former NFL MVP.

“He’s a specimen, for sure,” Edelman said, via WEEI.com. “When you first meet him — just his stature, the dude is large, put together well and he has great energy. He has a great energy about himself. I was really impressed with his work ethic and his mindset. Just like I have been impressed with Stidham’s and Hoyer’s. I have been throwing with those guys as well.”

The Patriots will move into the next phases of training camp over the next week and that should begin to provide a better idea of which quarterback Edelman will be catching passes from in September.

Titans place LB Josh Smith on COVID-19 list

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The Titans added a player to their reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.

Linebacker Josh Smith will be away from the team after being placed on the list. He has either tested positive for COVID-19 or is quarantined after having close contact with someone who is infected.

Smith played collegiately in Nashville while at Vanderbilt and joined the Titans after going undrafted last year. He spent the final weeks of the regular season and the team’s three-week playoff run on their practice squad.

Smith joins defensive lineman Jack Crawford on the Titans’ COVID-19 list. Offensive lineman Anthony McKinney was the only Titans player to opt out of playing at all this season.

Doug Marrone admits defensive line is a concern

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The Jaguars defensive line looked good on paper this offseason, but then it was one thing and then another and another. . . .

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is in the process of changing agents, remains unsigned after the Jaguars put the franchise tag on him this offseason. Veteran defensive tackle Al Woods and defensive end Lerentee McCray opted out of the 2020 season.

The Jaguars placed second-year defensive tackle Dontavius Russell (hip) and third-year defensive tackle Brian Price (knee) on injured reserve Sunday, and veteran defensive lineman Rodney Gunter went on the reserve non-football illness list.

“I’m not going to say it’s not a concern; that would be ridiculous,” Marrone said Monday, via John Oesher of the team website. “It would be a lack of awareness.”

Marrone, though, hopes the Jaguars have addressed the position after signing fifth-year defensive end Adam Gotsis, fifth-year defensive tackle Carl Davis and fifth-year defensive lineman Caraun Reid.

“We’re fortunate; even the players we’ve picked up late have really looked good out there,” Marrone said. “We’re bringing in guys that we feel have a chance. I think where you get disappointed is if you’re bringing in players just to be able to survive practice and not bringing in people who have an opportunity to make the team. We’ve got guys who have good numbers, good intangibles and who show some flexibility.

“Some of these guys we’re signing, they’ve bounced around a little bit and they’re champing at the bit to try to get a job. I feel comfortable with the guys we’re bringing in here.”

The Jaguars are encouraged by what they are seeing from defensive tackle Taven Bryan, a first-round choice in 2018. Last year’s first-round choice, defensive end Josh Allen, also should play even better in his second season after making 10.5 sacks as a rookie.

Ravens waive fullback Bronson Rechsteiner

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Bronson Rechsteiner may be clear to get back into the family business.

The Ravens announced they had waived the rookie fullback.

The Kennesaw State product was signed in May, giving them an interesting offseason storyline, at least. He’s the son of professional wrestler Rick Steiner, and has talked about entering the sports entertainment world at some point in the future.

The Ravens have plans to sign running back/returner Kenjon Barner, so this would create the roster spot.

The problems with college football’s “the players will still be at risk if we don’t play” argument

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A popular argument has emerged in recent days for playing college football. It goes like this: If college football isn’t played, college football players will still be at risk of catching the virus; in fact, they could be at greater risk.

Alabama coach Nick Saban joined that chorus today: “Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a two-percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of the July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

The argument has some superficial appeal, because it takes into account the recklessness, selfishness, and/or stupidity of the average 18-, 19-, and/or 20-year-old. And to borrow a sentiment from the late George Carlin, think of how reckless, selfish, and stupid the average 18-, 19-, and/or 20-year-old is, and then consider that half of them are even more reckless, selfish, and stupid than that. (As a former 18-, 19-, and 20-year old, I will admit that I was in that half.)

Here’s the problem with this argument, beyond the fact that only one of the play-or-don’t-play options allows coaches and others connected to college football to be realize the revenue from a season of college football. Unless each program is as buttoned up as Michigan and/or every NFL team when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus and/or acting properly when someone tests positive, a college football becomes a potentially significant source of potential spread of the virus in its community, with players passing it around to each other and to coaches and staff, and then all of them taking it out of the building and giving it to others.

Yes, the players can (and probably will) engage in risky behaviors if football doesn’t happen. Their schools’ football programs won’t be enhancing that risk, however — especially if the schools will be having online-only classes this fall, allowing the players (and other students who would be gathers for super-spreader house parties) to live in a place other than the town their colleges are located.

Also, don’t overlook liability concerns. Although it will be very difficult if not impossible to link illness and/or death by a player (or a player’s family member) to the football program given the wide scope of avenues for catching the virus, the legal system eventually will be tasked with creating a proper standard for parsing out accountability when it comes to the failure of businesses and other organizations to engage in reasonably prudent activities. Quite possibly, strict proof of proximate causation will go out the window; if a business or organization can be shown to have failed to put proper measures in place (with those proper measures determined by the courts after the fact), liability could be imposed based simply on showing that a given player, coach, and/or staff member was exposed to an environment that, for example, lacked sufficient testing, contact tracing, social distancing, face coverings, etc. to limit the spread of the virus.

Even if a school currently thinks it’s doing enough in that regard, the school may later find out the hard way (and the very expensive way) that it wasn’t. That’s a very real risk with incredibly long-term potential consequences, from legal fees paid to defend against the claims to eventual settlements and/or verdicts and protracted fights with insurance companies that, above all else, won’t want to pay anything for such claims. In the end, the financial damage to a given school could be much, much more significant than the losses from one lost season of football.

Then there’s the question of ethics. Even if the kids will put themselves at some degree of risk on their own, does that make it right for the schools to do so instead? Sure, some of the kids will put themselves at even greater risk if they’re not practicing and playing football. But, depending on the quality of the safety programs, they’d still be placed at some degree of risk if they play football.

Finally, let’s not assume that all 18-, 19-, and/or 20-year-olds are knuckleheads. Maybe some aren’t doing reckless, stupid, and/or selfish things that would expose them to the virus. Besides, if/when the COVID hits the fan in the form of a lawsuit, bet your bottom dollar (and some schools could be digging nearly that deep) on any player or family member who sues painting the picture of someone who was engaged in anything but risky behavior away from the program, forcing the colleges into the unseemly position of having to prove that its players were, in reality, even more reckless, stupid, and/or selfish than the average 18-, 19-, and/or 20-year-old.

So, yes, the argument advanced by folks like Nick Saban (who has several million reasons to see the season proceed) makes sense on the surface. At various deeper levels, it’s a much tougher sell.

Logan Ryan pitching himself to teams as a safety

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Logan Ryan has been listed as a cornerback during his seven years with the Patriots and Titans, but the free agent isn’t locked into that position as he looks for a place to play in 2020.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Ryan’s agent has been in touch with teams to let them know that Ryan views himself as a safety at this point in his career. Those teams have been given a statistical comparison between Ryan and starting safeties around the league.

Ryan worked out of the slot often for the Titans last season and finished the year with 113 tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and 4.5 sacks.

He has been linked to the Jets and Dolphins at points this offseason, but it’s unclear if those options are still on the table for the veteran defensive back.

 

Scott Frost: Nebraska is committed to playing, no matter what

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The Big Ten may be on the verge of canceling the 2020 football season, but not every Big Ten school is on board.

Nebraska’s president reportedly voted against canceling the season in a meeting of Big Ten presidents, and Nebraska coach Scott Frost went even further today, saying his football team plans to be on the field this season.

“Our University is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that looks like and how that looks. We want to play no matter who it is or where it is,” Frost said.

Nebraska, of course, can’t play unless it has other teams to play against. And there may not be any other Big Ten schools fielding football teams this year. But in this most unusual of years, it’s possible that some combination of football schools could decide to play a fall season outside their traditional conferences, and that Nebraska would play even if the Big Ten does not.

Jason Witten: Raiders presented unique opportunity

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It’s going to take some time before the black and silver No. 82 looks right on Jason Witten. Or maybe it never will.

Witten, 38, played 16 seasons with the Cowboys, leaving his mark on the team record book.

He retired after the 2017 season to go into the broadcast booth and unretired to play a final season for the Cowboys in 2019. Now, he’s in Las Vegas, starting over.

“Yeah, I mean there was talks of that,” Witten said of a return to the Cowboys during a videoconference Monday. “I mean, I think anytime you have a coaching changes and a new program being built, that’s part of this business. Obviously, I had a great relationship over 16, 17 years there with the Jones family. Very honest and very upfront. Of course, with Mike [McCarthy], look, that’s a talented team. But this was a unique opportunity for me as well to come here. I’m invigorated by this challenge, where I am in my career. It made a lot of sense from the fit and the role and the presence that I could have. I didn’t really overthink it. Just a great opportunity to go in there and compete. I’m very fortunate for that. I’ll challenge myself to play at a high level, even where my age is. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”

Witten made 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns last season, and the Cowboys chose to sign Blake Jarwin to a long-term deal and let Witten leave.

Witten started all 16 games last season and played 845 snaps, which was 75 percent of the team’s offensive plays. It seems likely he will play less than that this season behind Darren Waller, who made 90 catches for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

Ronald Jones taking advice from Tom Brady on improving as a receiver

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Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said last week that running back Ronald Jones will be carrying the load for the team in the backfield this season and the amount of the load he’ll bear will have something to do with how he fares in the passing game.

Jones caught 31 passes for 309 yards during the 2019 season and the Bucs got 84 catches from their running backs overall, but that was with Jameis Winston playing quarterback in Tampa. James White had 72 catches for the Tom Brady-led Patriots last season and Brady’s move to Tampa is expected to result in some changes to the offense.

Jones has gone to Brady himself for pointers on how to improve as a receiver.

“He always tells me to get low in my routes and run my routes like I already have the ball,” Jones said, via the team’s website. “A lot of times I was trying to get a feel for the defense, if it was zone or man. I’m working on getting that pre-snap read and then just exploding through my routes, just finishing. I think that’s been what we’ve been working on now just in the shorts and stuff.”

Playing on passing downs isn’t just about catching the ball, though. Jones was benched in one December game for a breakdown in pass protection and the Bucs aren’t likely to risk Brady’s health if they aren’t confident he’ll be more capable now.

Alvin Kamara focused on being healthy again, not contract

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Alvin Kamara would like a new contract. But he’d also like to get back to feeling like Alvin Kamara.

The Saints running back told reporters on a videoconference Monday that he struggled throughout last season after an early knee injury, and clearly wasn’t himself. He admitted that frustration, knowing his body language was “terrible” at times.

“I injured myself early. Jacksonville week, I tore my knee basically,” Kamara said, via Luke Johnson of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “That was something I was dealing with the whole season, had to miss some time, which I don’t like to do. Came back, tried to play as best I could, tried to manage it the best I could. . . .

“I tried to put my best product out on the field. Sometimes it was enough, sometimes it wasn’t. I just didn’t want to let my team down. At times, there were situations where in my head I’m like I shouldn’t be out here. It’s just that urge in me to be like I need to be here to help my team. What if I’m not in and there’s something I could’ve done?”

What he’s not worried about is the contract talks which may or may not be happening, saying he was leaving that to others to concentrate on his work.

“As far as contracts go, I’m not concerned with contract talks at all,” he said. “Me and my agent talked briefly about it, and I told him, ‘Don’t tell me anything about a contract until stuff is happening and there’s something I need to know.’ If I was my own agent, then I would have everything to tell you guys about a contract, but I’m not. I don’t talk [with the front office] about contracts, I don’t talk to coaches about contracts.”

After missing two games last year and being at some lesser version of himself (but still good), his primary concern is that he’s back to health.

Report: Yannick Ngakoue changing agents

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Yannick Ngakoue has moved on from his agent.

Ngakoue, who remains unsigned after the Jaguars put the franchise tag on him this offseason, is parting ways with his agent, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

That usually happens when the player isn’t satisfied with his situation. In Ngakoue’s case, it’s too late to get a new contract: He can only play this year on the one-year, $17.788 million franchise tag. But Ngakoue has said he wants to be traded, and he may think another agent can help make that happen.

By rule, Ngakoue has to wait five days before he can hire a new agent.

Markus Golden admits frustration at the way free agency played out

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Free agency did not go the way Markus Golden expected in 2019, so he signed a one-year deal with the Giants. After 10 sacks and 15 quarterback hits last season, Golden thought he would find a healthy free agency market.

He didn’t.

The Giants applied the rarely used May 5 free agent tender on him when he remained unsigned, returning Golden to the team on a one-year, $4.1 million deal with $1 million in bonuses also available.

“You put in a lot of work during the season,” Golden said Monday, via Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com. “This is a game that they say if you put the work in, hard work is going to pay off, and the game is going to pay you back in different ways. Of course, [free agency] was frustrating, but you just have to work harder and use everything as motivation.”

Golden admits he was “surprised” at the tender, having no idea it even existed. He also insists he harbors no ill will toward the Giants.

“Business is business,” Golden said. “I know how this stuff goes. I’v been having that really since college and so I got a business mindset. You’ve got to have that mindset because that’s exactly what is. Yeah, it’s football, a game we’ve been playing since we were kids. But when you get to this level . . . you start to realize it’s a business. That’s a mindset I keep so I’ll be ready when different stuff like that happens.”