Duke Johnson “very optimistic” about extension with Browns

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Running back Duke Johnson has spent the last three seasons with the Browns and he’d like to extend his stay in Cleveland a while longer.

Johnson is heading into the final year of the four-year deal he signed as a 2015 third-round pick and said on Wednesday, via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com, that he’s started talking to the team about a contract extension. Johnson described himself as “very optimistic” that the two sides will strike a deal.

Johnson split time with Isaiah Crowell over the last three seasons and made a big mark as a receiver out of the backfield. He had a career-high 74 catches last year and has 188 catches for 1,741 yards and five receiving touchdowns overall. He’s run the ball 259 times for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns as well.

Crowell has moved onto the Jets, leaving Johnson to share the backfield with free agent acquisition Carlos Hyde and 2018 second-round pick Nick Chubb.

Anthony Barr staying away from Vikings OTAs

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The Vikings have targeted linebacker Anthony Barr as one of their own players they hope to be able to extend.

And it appears he’s going to wait for them to do just that.

According to Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Barr is skipping the team’s OTAs.

He attended coach Mike Zimmer’s football camp over the weekend, but decided to not attend the voluntary work.

“He came to me [Tuesday] and said he wasn’t going to be here,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “I don’t worry about those things. I just know the conversation we had, I’ll keep between myself and him.”

The 26-year-old Barr is entering the final year of his contract. His $12.306 million base salary is guaranteed, but he has no workout bonuses in his deal so he’s not losing any money, as some other conscientious objectors are.

Cowboys players give a collective shrug at anthem policy

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The Cowboys are one of only a handful of teams not to have a player protest during the national anthem, and owner Jerry Jones recently reiterated his stance on the issue.

It sounds as if Cowboys players will continue to abide by Jones’ wishes and stand for the anthem as no one in the team’s locker room Wednesday appeared upset at the NFL’s new anthem policy.

“I’m pretty sure we all know kind of what Jerry said, his statement last year. I don’t see that changing,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “. . . I’m glad they came to an agreement. I’ll be out there standing.”

Even the Cowboys’ new players are ready to stand for the anthem.

“I’m the type of person that I respect the people that’s over there fighting for us,” new receiver Tavon Austin said. “Whoever want to sit down, that’s on them. Whoever want to stand up, same to them, too. I’m the type of person that I believe in what I believe in, and I stand on it.”

The NFL’s new policy calls for all league and team personnel on the field to stand during the playing of the anthem while eliminating the requirement that all league and team personnel be on the field for the playing of the song. It also calls for the league to discipline teams whose personnel do not comply with the policy and allows teams to set their own “work rules” regarding players who do not stand during the playing of the song.

“I feel like I’m not an owner . . . yet,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said, “so I can’t make none of those rules. I’ve just got to abide by them. It’s still a business at the end of the day, so it is what it is.”

While Ezekiel Elliott said “it’s guys’ opinion to do whatever they want to do,” team captain Sean Lee was adamant that the issue won’t divide the locker room.

“I think it’s a passionate issue, and I think it’s going to take time,” Lee said. “This is something that’s not just going to change. I think this is something that over time, you have to continue to work to respect each other’s views, and it’s not going to be easy. Hopefully something will come where we all work to move forward and agree with each other.

“But . . . we’ve had conversations in the past about respecting each other’s beliefs. We know we’re teammates. This is a brotherhood here and we’re working toward a common goal, and at times, people have different views. The No. 1 thing we talked about is making sure we support each other; that we stay together; we stay unified; and we support each other. I think that’s what we’ll do going forward.”

Falcons add Ricky Ortiz to fullback mix

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The Falcons didn’t re-sign Derrick Coleman after the 2017 season and they now have three players competing for a spot at fullback.

The latest addition is Ricky Ortiz, who was signed by the Falcons on Wednesday. Cornerback Joseph Putu, who signed with the team after going undrafted in April, was waived in a corresponding move.

Ortiz signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent last year and stuck with the team through the preseason. He ran three times for eight yards and caught four passes for 21 yards in four exhibition games before finding his way to Baltimore’s practice squad.

The Falcons signed two undrafted rookie fullbacks earlier this month. Luke McNitt and Daniel Marx will join Ortiz in competition for a full-time run at the position.

Chargers will explore all tight end options after Hunter Henry injury

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The Chargers were looking for tight end Hunter Henry to have a big season in 2018, but it will be 2019 before he’s on the field again.

Henry tore his ACL during Tuesday’s practice on what General Manager Tom Telesco called “a very routine, non-contact play” and Telesco said the tight end is understandably “taking it tough.” Telesco said he assured Henry he hadn’t let the team down, but there’s still a need at tight end to consider.

The first name that pops to mind is Antonio Gates, who has spent his entire career with the Chargers and is currently  unemployed after the Chargers said he wasn’t in their plans this year. Telesco was asked if that’s changed in light of Henry’s contract.

“We’ll look at all the options that are out there. We’ve got time to do it right now,” Telesco said, via Greg Beachem of the Associated Press.

Marcedes Lewis (who is set to visit the Packers), Julius Thomas and Coby Fleener are other available veteran tight ends, although none have the history with the team and quarterback Philip Rivers that Gates can bring to the table. Virgil Green, Braedon Bowman and Sean Culkin are among the tight ends already on the roster.

Buccaneers bring back Bernard Reedy

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Wide receiver Bernard Reedy opened last season with the Buccaneers and he’ll try to do the same after closing out the 2017 campaign with the Patriots.

The Buccaneers announced that they have signed Reedy to their 90-man roster on Wednesday. They waived wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who joined the team last week, with an injury designation.

Reedy’s relationship with Bucs coach Dirk Koetter goes back even further than last season as he first played for Koetter while he was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator in 2015. He joined the Bucs the next year and made his first regular season appearance last year.

Reedy caught two passes for 21 yards and ran three times for 17 yards in nine games. He also returned kickoffs and punts before being released in November and went on to return four punts in two games with the Patriots.

Christopher Johnson pledges not to force players to stand for anthem

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On the anthem issue, Big Shield has a few cracks.

Apart from 49ers owner Jed York abstaining from the vote, Jets CEO Christopher Johnson has made it clear that he won’t punish players who violate the new mandate to “respect” the flag.

“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said, via Bob Glauber of Newsday. “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

Making Johnson’s stance on this intensely political issue even more intriguing is the fact that he’s running the team solely because President Donald Trump made Johnson’s brother, Woody, the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. Christopher’s stance, if it results in more protests, will eventually draw the ire of the New York native who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It remains to be seen whether the fines will increase with each violation, under the notion of progressive discipline that the NFL uses for violations of in-game safety rules. If so, it could get very expensive for Johnson and the Jets.

Lions sign Trevor Bates

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The Lions added another linebacker to the roster on Wednesday.

The team announced that they have signed Trevor Bates. Tight end DeAndre Goolsby was waived in a corresponding move.

Bates was a seventh-round pick by the Colts in 2016 after playing college football at the University of Maine. He spent a brief period on their active roster that year and played in one game before being released. He landed on the Patriots practice squad, which makes him a familiar face to Lions head coach Matt Patricia, and then spent most of last season on the Giants practice squad.

Goolsby signed with the Lions this month after going undrafted out of Florida. His departure leaves the Lions with five tight ends on the 90-man roster.

President, Vice President declare anthem victory

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The ink is barely dry on the NFL’s new anthem policy, and the man most responsible for forcing the league to compel standing for the anthem is declaring victory.

Vice President Mike Pence, who stormed out of a 49ers-Colts game due to kneeling by the visiting team that he knew or should have known would occur, tweeted #Winning along with a headline declaring the NFL’s revised rule a “stunning victory for President Trump.” President Donald Trump quickly retweeted the message through his official @POTUS account.

It’s no surprise, and it’s surely not the last time the NFL will hear from the President or the Vice President. Did anyone truly think that the NFL crying “Uncle” would end this? Trump and Pence would have continued to attack if the rule hadn’t changed, and they’ll now revel in the fact that they forced the NFL to bow to their will. Repeatedly.

For an administration that has a reputation for declaring victory when the circumstances don’t justify it, this one definitely justifies a little crowing and/or chest-thumping. The President has managed to get a group of billionaires who refused on multiple occasions to give him a seat at the table to kiss his ring and do his bidding. Their reward definitely won’t be silence.

Thus, President Trump wins. The NFL loses. And President Trump will reminder anyone and everyone about this victory.

So . . . congratulations, NFL?

Jed York abstained from anthem policy vote

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During a short press conference that started after the NFL released a statement on its new national anthem policy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the policy was adopted after a unanimous vote by the league’s 32 teams.

Not all of the teams voted, however. 49ers CEO Jed York said that he abstained from the vote because he believed it required further study that, per Steve Wyche of NFL Media, includes discussion with players. The 49ers employed Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when his decision to not stand for the anthem started us down the road to Tuesday’s vote.

York also suggested that the change in policy, which calls for all on the field to “stand and show respect” will also lead to a change in procedures at the concession stands at Levi’s Stadium.

“I don’t think we should be profiting if we’re going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag,” York said, via Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.

That would seem to be a reasonable approach for the teams that voted for a new policy emphasizing respect for the national anthem on Tuesday and it’s sure to be among the questions for other owners in the wake of the change.

Figuring out the awkward Brady-Belichick-Patriots dance

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Stunning as it may be, the decision of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to stay away from Organized Team Activities isn’t really surprising. But the specific reason for his absence still isn’t known. There could be several.

Regardless, he’s not present for the critical third phase of the offseason program, which as Brady himself said five years ago lays the foundation for training camp, which in turn lays the foundation for the regular season, and so on.

In an effort to understand the situation, we invited Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston to join Wednesday’s PFT Live. From Curran’s perspective, Brady’s concerns arise in part from Belichick fatigue, and possibly also from the fact that Brady is earning peanuts in relation to other quarterbacks.

Curran agreed with the notion that Brady likely believes he shouldn’t have to ask for a raise. But Curran also said it’s possible Belichick is reluctant to give a significant increase to Brady, given how close he may be to the end of the line. And he may be even closer; Belichick surely isn’t happy with Brady’s decision to boycott OTAs, which will only make Belichick more determined to find his next potential franchise quarterback.

Ryan Tannehill: I have to “go out and perform” to stick around

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Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is working on the field at OTAs this week and said Wednesday that he was fully cleared for football last week after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

Tannehill said he feels blessed to be able to be back on the field after such a long layoff and doing more than the mental reps he was limited to last season. Tannehill also said he doesn’t have any regrets about opting not to have surgery after initially hurting his knee late in the 2016 season because every medical opinion he got was that he should not have an operation at that point.

While there was unanimity with his doctors, there hasn’t been the same unanimity in opinion about Tannehill’s future as the starter with the Dolphins. There was a lot of discussion about the Dolphins taking a quarterback early in the draft, but Tannehill said such talk wasn’t a concern for him.

“I wasn’t worried,” Tannehill said at a press conference. “Every team has to evaluate positions and make the best decisions for the organization, but it never changed my course of action or my plan. I knew I have to go out and perform whether they drafted somebody or not. That’s the case this year, that’s the case every year. You have to go out and perform or you won’t be around.”

The Dolphins didn’t take a quarterback early and Tannehill is headed into the 2018 season as a starter. Anything beyond that will hinge on how he goes out and performs this year.

Sean Taylor’s killer seeks a reduced sentence

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The man who shot and killed Sean Taylor more than a decade ago hopes to get out of prison at some point before 2060.

Eric Rivera, who was 17 at the time, received a 57-year sentence in 2013 after being convicted of second-degree murder. Via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald, Rivera seeks a reduced sentence for two reasons: (1) sentencing laws for juveniles have changed; and (2) several other defendants in the case received much shorter sentences.

“I don’t think he should behind bars for the rest of his life for something that was a mistake and an accident,” Rivera’s mother testified on Wednesday.

Said Rivera, now 28, in court:  “I believe I deserve a second chance because I’ve grown. I know I can be a productive citizen.”

Rivera and four other youths robbed Taylor’s South Florida home in November 2007, at a time when they believed he was out of town. Rivera shot Taylor as he rushed them with a machete that he kept in his bedroom for protection. The bullet severed Taylor’s femoral artery, and he later died at a local hospital.

The mastermind of the plot, Jason Mitchell, received a life sentence. Venjah Hunte, Timmy Lee Brown, and Charles Wardlow are serving 29 years, 18 years, and 30 years, respectively.

Report: Richie Incognito held by police after incident at gym

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Richie Incognito is an NFL free agent after being released by the Bills this week, but he’s reportedly been held by police after an incident in Florida on Wednesday.

TMZ reports that law enforcement sources confirmed Incognito has been placed in an involuntary hold for a mental evaluation after police were called to a gym to intervene during an altercation between Incognito and another man.

The alleged victim told TMZ Incognito threw a tennis ball for no reason and followed up by throwing a dumbbell at him as well. Incognito was allegedly “rambling about the government and screaming at the man to ‘get off my f*cking playground'” while this was going on.

Incognito sought treatment for mental health issues in Arizona in 2014 after he smashed his own car with a baseball bat.

Baker Mayfield working with the threes at Browns OTAs

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Even though the Browns took Baker Mayfield first overall, he’s not working with the first team.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mayfield was the third quarterback in drills during Browns OTAs Wednesday, behind both Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton.

That’s not surprising, in and of itself.

As much as they obviously like Mayfield, it’s generally better for any rookie to not be hit with the burden of expectations that comes with being ordained as the day one starter.

And it’s not as if Taylor’s not a perfectly capable NFL quarterback. He just led the Bills to a season in which they snapped a 17-year playoff drought (despite his coaches nearly torpedoing the effort by benching him and watching his replacement throw five picks).