Dak Prescott expects Ezekiel Elliott’s best this season now that the RB is healthy

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys
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Ezekiel Elliott is entering his seventh season with the Cowboys. An eighth is not guaranteed.

That’s because the running back has no guaranteed money remaining after this season. It seems likely the Cowboys won’t pay him $10.9 million in base salary and take a $16.72 million cap charge for Elliott in 2023.

So, this could be his last season in Dallas.

Elliott needs a big year personally after falling out of the conversation as one of the league’s best backs the past two seasons. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 61.9 yards per game combined in 2020-21.

The Cowboys need him to have a big season to accomplish what they want to accomplish this season.

Elliott is healthy now after playing through a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament last season, so the Cowboys expect to see the running back who made the Pro Bowl three of his first four seasons.

“Nothing ever changes for my expectations of Zeke, of who he is, how he leads this team, how he approaches the game,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said Wednesday, via Jon Machota of TheAthletic.com. “He comes in like a pro each and every day and does that, so I expect his best. When you do that and do it with the intentfulness he does, he’s going to get better. When Zeke’s healthy, I don’t think there’s a better back.”

DeAndre Thompson selected as Broncos’ Billy Thompson diversity coaching fellow

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The Broncos named their season-long defensive diversity coaching fellowship the Billy Thompson Diversity Coaching Fellowship, the team announced Thursday.

Thompson announced his retirement after 42 years with the Broncos as a Ring of Fame player and administrator.

DeAndre Thompson was selected as the 2022 Billy Thompson Diversity Coaching Fellow. Thompson, who most recently served as the cornerbacks coach at the University of Buffalo, will assist the defense with film breakdown and scouting reports.

DeAndre Thompson, a graduate of Texas A&M, was a two-sport letterwinner for the Aggies. He competed in football and track and field. He appeared in 25 games for A&M over three seasons and used his final year of eligibility at the University of Memphis.

In 2021, the Broncos named their offensive diversity coaching fellowship after Marlin Briscoe, who was the NFL’s first Black quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

How voluntary is “voluntary”?

NFL: MAY 26 Kansas City Chiefs OTA Offseason Workouts
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As a week of Organized Team Activities come to a conclusion, it’s important to understand what OTAs are, and aren’t.

They are voluntary. But they really aren’t. Players are expected to participate. Plenty of players have specific bonuses tied to participation in the offseason program. Even without a financial inducement to show up, it’s an important aspect of the preparation for the season to come.

Yes, it’s technically voluntary. And plenty of players who stay away have specific business reasons to do so. It’s a way to leverage a new contract now and/or to avoid suffering an injury that would undermine a player’s value.

For players who are going to work out anyway, there’s still a very good reason to participate in the official workout program. If a freak injury happens in the building, the player is protected. It’s basically free insurance against the worst-case scenario. If a player gets injured while working out on his own, he’s most likely out of luck.

Every player has to make his own decision as to whether to participate. For the vast majority, it makes sense to be there. For some, it makes sense to stay away.

For a small handful, the decision to stay away makes little sense. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t there, despite getting a massive new contract — and having every reason to work with a revamped receiving corps. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who presumably hopes to leverage great season into a massive contract, isn’t laying the foundation for that great season by skipping OTAs.

So, yes, it’s voluntary. And, yes, it’s newsworthy when a player doesn’t show up. And, yes, for most players the right call is to be there.

Josh McDaniels on Colin Kaepernick workout: Derek Carr knows how we feel about him

NFL: DEC 20 Raiders at Browns
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Free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick received a workout from the Raiders on Wednesday, the first time in five years he has gotten a private tryout from an NFL team. The Raiders have a starting quarterback who received a contract extension this offseason.

Thus, Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said the team didn’t feel the need to give Derek Carr a heads up about Kaepernick’s workout.

“Nah, I mean, I think Derek’s pretty comfortable with where he’s at,” McDaniels said, via Brady Henderson of ESPN. “I think he knows who he is for us and I know he knows how I feel about him, how we feel about him. I don’t think that’s really a big thing to Derek at this point.”

Carr, 31, heads into his ninth season still looking for his first playoff victory, but with the knowledge that the organization believes in him. He signed a three-year, $121.5 million extension in May.

The Raiders have Jarrett Stidham, Nick Mullens and undrafted rookie Chase Garbers behind Carr.

“I think he knows this is his football team, and he’s working like it on the field and he’s leading the way that we want him to lead, and he’s doing all the right things,” McDaniels said of Carr. “I couldn’t ask more from Derek Carr and very pleased with what he’s doing so far.”

Carr threw 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and produced a 94.0 passer rating last season. The Raiders went 10-7 but lost to the Bengals in the wild-card round of the playoffs in Carr’s first postseason start.

Alex Leatherwood getting reps at right tackle but also at guard

Miami Dolphins v Las Vegas Raiders
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Alex Leatherwood started four games at right tackle last season as a rookie before his struggles prompted them to move him to right guard and play Brandon Parker at right tackle. The Raiders still are trying to figure out where Leatherwood’s future lies.

He worked at right tackle during practice Thursday, but coach Josh McDaniels said Leatherwood has moved around the line. Leatherwood is listed as a guard/tackle on the roster.

“Each one of the guys up front, we’ve got some guys center and guard. We’ve got some guys playing on the right side and the left side. We’ve got some guys playing tackle and guard,” McDaniels said, via Tashan Reed of TheAthletic.com. “(Playing tackle) was a little bit of a focus of that today for (Leatherwood), but ultimately, we’re going to try to figure out who the best five are that can give us the best chance of success every play. He’s certainly working his butt off right now to try to give us the right stuff wherever we put him.

“That whole group just works, really. They come to work every day, they don’t really say a whole lot and they grind it out. I’m pleased with the effort that they’re giving us. We’re asking a lot of some of those guys in terms of movement because that gives us an opportunity to evaluate multiple people alongside other people. We don’t want to get into a habit of, ‘This is the only guy that I’m ever going to play besides,’ because there are a lot of things that those two people or three people have to talk about and a lot of words that mean things to ’em. (Leatherwood) has done a good job. He false-started once today, but that’s going to happen.”

The Raiders drafted Leatherwood with the 17th overall choice in 2021. He did nothing to dispel the thought that the Raiders reached.

Leatherwood committed the fourth-most penalties in NFL with 11 total, including seven false starts, and he allowed 3.5 sacks, according to STATS, Inc.

49ers rally against reporter who antagonized Javon Kinlaw

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers
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When a fan runs onto a field during a game, the broadcast doesn’t show it in order to avoid encouraging others from following suit. For similar reasons, we’ve ignored the weird fight that has unfolded between a reporter and 49ers defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw.

I’m not going to spend much time on this, other than to say it’s obvious that the reporter is utilizing his access to troll one specific player in a deliberate effort to provoke the kind of reaction that will elevate the reporter. I’ve watched the videos. It’s painfully obvious. It’s a get-rich-quick scam by someone who is willing to antagonize players under the guise of “calling it like I see it.”

That’s really all we have to say about it. I wanted to say nothing. I finally decided to say something, but to say as little as possible.

And the something I’m saying is this. It’s a know-it-when-you-see-it situation. The reporter wants to boost his own platform by picking a fight with a member of the 49ers, and then by acting like he didn’t pick the fight. Again, it’s painfully obvious.

We won’t give him the satisfaction of using his name. Whether the 49ers want to continue to give him access is their business. It’s actually good for the team, given that players have rallied against the reporters. Meanwhile, the reporter in question is borderline gleeful over the fact that he has stirred things up by crossing the line from fair criticism of a football player to a personal attack on a human being.

That’s all I’m going to say. You can Google it for more details, if you want. I refuse to give the reporter the attention he craves, because it’s obvious that the entire exercise is calculated toward that specific goal.

Jameis Winston says “everything is going great” in his return from knee injury

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints
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Less than seven months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Jameis Winston is back on the practice field. He isn’t going full speed with everything yet, but it’s a good sign for the Saints quarterback in his bid to be fully healthy for Week 1.

Winston said his top priority now is strenthening the area around his meniscus.

“Drops are at full speed right now,” Winston said, via John DeShazier of the team website. “Still progressing into running. But I’m more just taking advantage of every opportunity I can get. I’m happy I can take full-speed reps with passing, not rolling out and stuff yet. (But) everything is going great.”

Winston has a brace on his knee, of course, and will wear it all season.

“I think everyone does that after an ACL, especially at the quarterback position,” Winston said. “There’s nothing limiting. There’s nothing that really bothers you from that perspective. So, I’m commanding the brace now.”

Winston, 28, threw 14 touchdowns, three interceptions, and the Saints had a 5-2 record in Winston’s seven starts. He injured his knee in an Oct. 31 game against the Bucs, which required season-ending surgery.

He spent the rest of the season rehabbing and began to feel a return to normalcy early in the offseason.

“I felt in three months that I was back to this point,” Winston said. “But I’m always embracing the process, always trying to find new ways. It’s actually a blessing in disguise, being able to strengthen other muscles – my hip flexors, my glutes, my quads and hamstrings. Just kind of revamping my whole body and just making sure everything is tight-knit and ready to go.”

Vikings G.M. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah on relationship with coach Kevin O’Connell: “It’s literally everything”

Minnesota Vikings Introduce Kevin O'Connell
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After the Vikings decided to change regimes, it started to become clear that a certain amount of dysfunction existed between the former front office and the coaching staff. As the new regime gets settled in, they understand the importance of working together, without agendas or in-fighting or blame-shifting.

I asked G.M. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah on Wednesday about the importance of his relationship with coach Kevin O’Connell.

“It’s everything,” Adofo-Mensah said. “It’s literally everything. When I started the interview process, I’ll be honest, I don’t know if insecurity is the word, but I have such a unique path, right? To have a head coach who’s worked his whole career to get his one chance and then to trust that chance with me, I knew how momentous that was. When I was in the interview, I wanted to make sure that they had time to ask me questions and really feel comfortable what they were getting into.

“When I called Kevin to offer him the job, I said to him, ‘Hey man, I’m only doing this once. We’re coming in together; we’re going out together.’ You hire a coach, you hire a problem solver. We’re a problem-solving team. If there’s issues, it’s our job to fix them together. There’s no finger pointing. It’s our job to kind of study them and I believe in him and I know he believes in me. He says that all the time that if he could choose anybody to do this job, he’d choose me. That means the world to me, and I obviously gonna work my butt off to not let him down. We’re in this together. I don’t think you’ll be showing any PFT headlines one day showing about ‘how dysfunctional.’ That’s not how it’s gonna be.”

That’s absolutely the right attitude, across the board. (Although headlines like that are good for business.) General Managers and coaches need to be tied at the hip. They need to have equal accountability. Both succeed, or both fail. That forces them to work together, to understand there’s no benefit to trying to blame the other guy when adversity strikes. Because it always does, eventually and inevitably.

Also inevitable is a pitch for you to buy Playmakers, whenever and wherever I can. I’m making it here because one of the many chapters (more than 100 in all) looks more closely at the coach/G.M. relationship, and why it’s so important that they both find a way to resist the temptation to internally or externally pin the blame for any problems on the other guy.

Pat Surtain II: Practicing against Russell Wilson helps me a lot

Broncos hold early season practice session at Dove Valley
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The Broncos traded for quarterback Russell Wilson in order to upgrade their offensive capability, but one key member of their defense believes Wilson’s arrival will help on both sides of the ball.

Cornerback Pat Surtain II had a strong rookie year after being taken in the first round of the 2021 draft and said his plan for the coming months is to hone “little pieces of my game or add little bits and pieces to my game.” He said that practicing against an offense with Wilson at the helm is going to be a plus for that process.

“It helps me a lot, going against premier talent like that with a great quarterback and great perimeter players,” Surtain said, via the team’s website. “That helps me as a player and build on my game. It’s always great going against them.”

The first chance to see what kind of growth Surtain has made will come against Wilson’s former team in Week 1 and facing Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf should be a good test of where Surtain is to start his second NFL season.

Will Gholston: Logan Hall is an even more athletic J.J. Watt

NFL: MAY 25 Tampa Bay Buccaneers OTA Offseason Workouts
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The Bucs made defensive lineman Logan Hall the 33rd overall choice of the draft this spring. Many have compared Hall to Bucs defensive end Will Gholston, who is entering his 10th season with the team.

“I can give you my opinion on Hall. He is that guy,” Gholston told the Pewter Report. “Logan is like that. His versatility, I think he can play inside and out. I think he can play my position [and Ndamukong] Suh’s position. His explosiveness and how well he moves, to be that big, I was shocked. Because I don’t necessarily see guys my size and stature all the time. He’s the same size as me, but he moves.”

Rather than compare Hall to himself, Gholston said the rookie reminds him of Noah Spence and J.J. Watt. Spence, who played with Tampa Bay from 2016-18, had explosiveness that Gholston sees in Hall.

Gholston’s “high hopes” for Hall include at least six sacks for Hall as a rookie.

“I haven’t seen him in pads. I don’t know why I’m so excited about him, but man, I see the dog in him,” Gholston said. “You really see the dog with the pads, but I see the dog. I see the fight. He is so big and slippery. He’s an even more athletic J.J. Watt in his prime.”

The comparison is a big one. Watt, who has 102 career sacks, five Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections and three defensive MVP awards, will end up in Canton one day.

Watt made 5.5 sacks his rookie season with the Texans.

“Dang, this is some big compliments I’m giving out,” Gholston said. “I just want everybody to know that guy is like that. I believe he is. Hopefully he don’t watch it because when I see him, I’m never going to give him this credit in person. Not yet.”

Hall of Fame honoring four Black players who re-integrated pro football in 1946

1951 NFL Championship Game - Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Rams - December 23, 1951
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Four Black players who ended decades of segregation when they played pro football in 1946 will be honored this summer by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The four players — Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who re-integrated the NFL with the Rams, and Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the Browns, who in 1946 became the first Black players in the All-America Football Conference — will receive the Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award.

Although the NFL had a small number of Black players in the 1920s and early 1930s, pro football had been segregated for more than a decade until Washington, Strode, Willis and Motley all played in the 1946 season, the year before Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting,” Hall President Jim Porter said. “Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier, thus ending years of racial segregation. Their pioneering role not only opened the door to opportunity for generations of NFL players to come, but it also changed the game forever.”

The Pioneer Award has been given out by the Hall of Fame only 10 times since it was established in 1972. It is named for Ralph Hay, the owner of the Canton Bulldogs who in 1920 hosted the first meeting of the clubs that became the National Football League.

Arthur Smith: We’re not asking Marcus Mariota to be Matt Ryan, just to be himself

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With Matt Ryan traded to the Colts, the Falcons now have Marcus Mariota as their presumable starting quarterback for 2022.

It’s been years since Mariota had a QB1 title, losing that job with the Titans to Ryan Tannehill in 2019. But after spending the last two seasons with the Raiders, he’s been reunited with head coach Arthur Smith — who was his offensive coordinator in Tennessee.

While Mariota is replacing Ryan, Smith said Thursday that he doesn’t want Mariota to feel like he has to do anything outside of himself in his role as a quarterback.

“He’s his own guy. That’s what you like about certain players, but he’s authentic,” Smith said. “He is who he is. He doesn’t try to be anybody. We’re not asking him to come in here and be Matt Ryan or to be Peyton Manning. Be Marcus Mariota. That’s what we want.

“He’s also – I think everybody when you get another shot at something, there’s lessons learned and they’re hard lessons but if you take them the right way, you’re more appreciative of the opportunity. It’s been fun being around him again, not just as a player but as a person. He’s one of those people you enjoy being around and he’s doing a good job right now with what we’re asking him to.”

Mariota will have his share of challenges in the upcoming year. But he does have an opportunity to show that he can once again be a franchise quarterback for a team that needs to replace one.

Orlando Brown still hasn’t hired an agent

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
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The Chiefs still plan to get a long-term deal worked out with left tackle Orlando Brown before the July 15 deadline. They can’t do anything, though, until Brown hires an agent.

“He’s still working to get an agent,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Thursday, via Pete Sweeney of arrowheadpride.com. “He’s interviewing these different people, so once he gets that taken care of, we’ll be able to roll. I know he’s working out down in Florida, so he is getting his workouts in.”

Brown has not signed the franchise tag, which guarantees him $16.662 million for 2022, so he is staying away from the team’s organized team activities.

The Chiefs traded for Brown a year ago and the compensation included a first-round choice. He started 16 regular-season games last season, missing one game with a calf injury, and earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl.

Packers sign Romeo Doubs, Zach Tom

Nevada v UNLV
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The Packers selected a pair of players in the fourth round this year and they signed both of them on Thursday.

Wide receiver Romeo Doubs and offensive lineman Zach Tom signed four-year contracts to kick off their professional careers. With those deals done, second-round wideout Christian Watson is the only one of 11 Packers selections without a contract.

Doubs topped 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last two seasons at Nevada and posted 20 touchdowns over those campaigns. He also served as a punt returner during his time in college and returned one kick for a touchdown.

Tom moved from center to left tackle during his final two seasons at Wake Forest. His older brother Cameron has played for the Saints and Dolphins, but is currently a free agent.

Ravens cut Kevin Toliver

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
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The Ravens waived cornerback Kevin Toliver, Field Yates of ESPN reports.

Toliver, 26, joined the team’s practice squad Nov. 23 and signed a futures contract with the Ravens on Jan. 10. He did not see any action with the Ravens in 2021.

Toliver went undrafted out of LSU in 2018, but he signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent and made the roster. He played 27 games with two starts in two seasons in Chicago.

The Broncos signed him to their practice squad in 2020, and he played two games for them before a torn ACL prematurely ended his season. He did not play a game in 2021.

In his career, Toliver has 32 tackles and four pass breakups.