John Harbaugh wants Marshal Yanda back for another year of “Hall of Fame football”

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Marshal Yanda‘s contract runs through 2020, but following the divisional-round loss to the Titans, the Pro Bowl right guard declined to comment about his plans for next season.

Will he return or won’t he?

“I talked to him after the game; that’s it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday at his season-ending news conference, via Daniel Oyefusi of the Baltimore Sun. “Marshal made it pretty clear, I think, that he’s going to think about things, you know, going forward. What a year. One of the things about being at the level he’s at and being at the stage of career he’s at, when you’re a Hall of Fame type of guy and you’re a lineman, it’s really important to finish strong in your career, to play Hall of Fame football at the end. Because that’s when everybody’s watching. And he’s doing that.”

Yanda, 35, made his eighth Pro Bowl and was second-team All-Pro behind Dallas’ Zack Martin. He has played 13 seasons.

“I’m all for him playing Hall of Fame football for another year if he so chooses,” Harbaugh said. “I did tell him that and let him know that. We had a good hug and stuff. But he’ll do what’s right for him and his family, and whatever he does, we’ll respect it. I just couldn’t say enough good things, great things, about Marshal Yanda and his family.”

Chris Jones, LeSean McCoy are questionable; Travis Kelce has no designation

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The Chiefs want to wait another day before making a decision on defensive tackle Chris Jones, coach Andy Reid said earlier Friday.

Thus, it comes as no surprise they list Jones as questionable for the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Jones’ calf injury kept him out of the divisional-round victory over the Texans, though he did return to a limited practice Friday.

The Chiefs also list running back LeSean McCoy (illness) and backup quarterback Matt Moore (illness) as questionable. Both had limited work Friday.

Tight end Travis Kelce (knee) has no designation, though he had another limited practice Friday. Reid already declared that Kelce will play.

Kelce was limited all three practices last week before catching 10 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns against Houston.

Seven Titans questionable for AFC Championship Game

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The Titans aren’t in perfect health, but it’s mid-January, so they’re probably as close as you can get.

They listed seven players as questionable on the final injury report, and all of them participated in a limited basis during Friday’s practice.

That group does not include cornerback Logan Ryan, who didn’t practice Wednesday because of an illness, but was a full participant each of the last two days, so he doesn’t have an injury designation

The other seven names on the report were all listed as limited Friday. That group includes linebacker Jayon Brown (shoulder), linebacker Rashaan Evans (foot), wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle), cornerback Adoree Jackson (foot), linebacker David Long (knee), wide receiver Cody Hollister (ankle), and right tackle Jack Conklin (shoulder).

Eagles interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator

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The Eagles were rebuffed by a couple of Ravens assistant coaches in their hunt to fill out Doug Pederson’s staff, but they’ve found one candidate interested in sitting down with them.

Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Eagles are interviewing USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell for the same job on their staff. Mike Groh was fired shortly after the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Seahawks.

Harrell was hired by USC in January 2019 after Kliff Kingsbury took the Cardinals job, so he only spent one year running the Trojans offense. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Texas the last three seasons and worked for Mike Leach at Washington State before taking that job.

Leach also coached Harrell as a prolific quarterback at Texas Tech. Harrell holds NCAA records for pass completions in a season and most career games with at least 400 passing yards, but his NFL career fizzled out with four relief appearances for the Packers in 2012.

Chiefs waiting to see how Chris Jones feels Saturday

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Defensive tackle Chris Jones practiced for the first time this week on Friday, but the team isn’t ready to make a call about his status for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game just yet.

Jones has been dealing with a calf injury and he missed last Sunday’s victory over the Texans because of the issue. He was able to practice on a limited basis Friday after sitting out the first two days of the week.

After the session, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that the team would wait to see how Jones is feeling Saturday before moving forward with a decision about the game.

Reid also said that tight end Travis Kelce will play. Kelce has been bothered by a knee problem that’s limited his practice work, but there was never much concern that he’d be at risk of sitting out this weekend.

Joe Brady: “I still work like I’m a graduate assistant”

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New Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady joked that he still isn’t quite sure where his new office is, but he’s working on it.

Likewise, the 30-year-old play-caller said he’s going to continue to grind the way he has in lower-profle jobs.

“I might be the offensive coordinator right now but I still work like I’m a graduate assistant,” Brady said.

He’s not far removed from one, at his age, but he downplayed that in his introductory press conference.

“I’ve never thought about my age or talked about my age,” he said, ignoring the obvious fact it’s the main topic regarding his hiring. “I don’t believe your age determines how good a coach you are.”

Monday night, Brady was helping the most prolific offense in college football win a national title. Hours later, he was leading the charge out of LSU and heading to his new job on coach Matt Rhule’s staff.

He was able to use that quick turnaround to avoid questions about the personnel on hand, specifically about the future of quarterback Cam Newton. He was even limited to platitudes when asked about running back Christian McCaffrey, and that’s a safe topic.

Ryan Tannehill: My stats have improved, but I haven’t changed as a player

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Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill wasn’t supposed to be starting in the AFC Championship Game. A year ago, the Dolphins were done with him, and when the Titans traded for him, it was to be a backup.

But after Marcus Mariota was benched, Tannehill turned in the best statistics of his career and helped the Titans get a game away from the Super Bowl. Tannehill said today, however, that he doesn’t think he has changed as much as his statistics might suggest.

“Statistically, obviously, it’s better. But I don’t feel like I’ve changed a whole lot,” Tannehill said. “My approach to the game, and how I play the game, I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot.”

Tannehill’s stats are undeniably the best of his career, easily exceeding his past career highs in yards per pass, completion percentage and passer rating. But Tannehill seems to think he wasn’t far off from being ready to put up those kinds of numbers during his six seasons as the starter in Miami as well. Sometimes a player just needs to be in the right place.

Phillip Daniels out as Eagles DL coach

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The Eagles have made another change to their coaching staff.

Phillip Daniels was the team’s defensive line coach in 2019, but he posted a tweet Friday thanking the Eagles organization “for four great years” and said he was proud of what the team’s defensive line achieved over that span. Multiple media members have confirmed that was Daniels’ farewell message after parting ways with the team.

Daniels was promoted from assistant defensive line coach to the top position coach job before the 2019 season and oversaw a group that helped the Eagles finish 15th in the league in points against. Daniels played defensive end in the NFL from 1996-2010 and this was his first NFL coaching job.

The Eagles fired offensive coordinator Mike Groh and wide receivers coach Carson Walch after their season came to an end. Cornerbacks coach Cory Undlin left the team to become the Lions defensive coordinator.

John Harbaugh: “Very hard” to re-sign Matt Judon, but we’ll try

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Ravens head coach John Harbaugh hoped he’d be holding a press conference about the AFC Championship Game on Friday, but his team lost to the Titans last week and that means he was holding an end-of-season press conference instead.

Impending free agents are always a topic at such gatherings and Harbaugh’s presser didn’t play out any differently. Linebacker Matt Judon is at the top of that list and Harbaugh said that he thinks it will be “very hard” to sign him, but “we’re going to try” to get a deal done.

The departures of Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs put Judon into a more prominent role this season and he responded with 9.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and 33 quarterback hits. That’s likely to make him an appealing prospect for any team looking for a boost to their pass rush on the open market.

Harbaugh also said he wants to re-sign defensive lineman Michael Pierce, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor and cornerback Jimmy Smith while picking up cornerback Brandon Carr‘s option. Getting all of that done and addressing needs on the other side of the ball while also re-signing Judon may prove to be more than the Ravens can manage, but we’ll see how things play out in Baltimore.

Chris Jones on the practice field in Kansas City

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The Chiefs have not yet given defensive lineman Chris Jones an injury designation for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, but there was a positive sign today.

Jones was on the practice field today, according to local media. That makes it the first time this week he’s been able to practice.

The 25-year-old Jones was selected to his first Pro Bowl this season and is a key cog in the Chiefs’ defense who led the team with nine sacks in the regular season.

After suffering a calf injury in practice, Jones missed the Chiefs’ playoff win over the Texans.

Ben Watson claims he played with torn Achilles in 2019

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Tight end Ben Watson had an unusual 2019. He retired from the NFL, tested positive for a PED, returned to the NFL despite knowing he’d tested positive for a PED, signed with the Patriots, participated in the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason, served the suspension, was released after the suspension ended, and then appeared in the final 10 games of the regular season, starting eight. (He also played in the playoff loss to the Titans.)

Watson now discloses via social media that he played with a torn Achilles tendon, thanking Tom Brady‘s TB12 center for Watson’s ability to keep going.

Making the claim more remarkable (and, perhaps for some, not credible) is the fact that Watson never appeared on the NFL injury report in 2019.

Maybe it was partially torn, not fully torn. Even then, it’s hard to imagine Watson not appearing on the injury report, disclosed at a minimum that he fully participated in practice.

Zac Taylor on Joe Burrow: “Long way to go before making decisions”

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The confetti had barely stopped falling, and the cigar smoke may have still been in the air when Bengals coaches started raving about Joe Burrow.

And while they may not want to declare at the moment, it’s clear they have been as impressed as the rest of us by the quarterback who led LSU to a national title and won the Heisman.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told Geoff Hobson of the team’s website that he’s been duly impressed after watching Monday’s title game, but you could sense that Taylor didn’t want to turn in the card for the first overall pick just yet.

“We’ve started the process of evaluating him,” Taylor said. “We certainly have a long way to go before making decisions on what we’re doing with the first pick. That’s been exciting. We’re not preparing for an opponent, so we have a chance to jump into the actual film work for all the position groups. . . .

“It was impressive. There’s no doubt. I’d like to make sure we’re a little more thorough on our film evaluation with a lot of guys before we start making statements on players. But certainly he had an impressive year.”

Of course, the Bengals have a veteran quarterback under contract at the moment, a guy who has started plenty of games for them in the past, so Taylor had to be careful not to slight Andy Dalton while everyone’s excited about the new guy who isn’t there yet.

“He’s under contract and he’s a guy that we really like and feel strongly about,” Taylor said of Dalton. “That’s where we’re at right now.”

Now that he’s finished sandbagging, Taylor can return to his plans for all his picks after the first one.

Aaron Hernandez documentary meanders through vague efforts to excuse his murders

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An archaic quirk of Massachusetts law nearly absolved Aaron Hernandez of murder because he died while the case was pending on appeal. The new Netflix documentary regarding Hernandez tries, in roundabout fashion, to do what Massachusetts ultimately didn’t.

That’s my takeaway from the meandering, three-part look at the life, the lives taken, and the death of Hernandez. While the effort to excuse his murder of Odin Lloyd and the accused drive-by shooting deaths of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu isn’t overt, the documentary sprinkles various alternative explanations and excuses for what could be the simple fact that Hernandez was an evil, entitled, and deranged sociopath who believed he could kill without consequence.

Whether it’s the unexpected death of his father (i.e., if his father had lived Hernandez’s life wouldn’t have taken a dark turn), his mother taking up with the spouse of his beloved cousin (i.e., the blatant example of betrayal screwed Hernandez up even further), his homosexuality (i.e., he was angry all the time because he wanted to hide and repress it), his drug use (i.e., the habit put him in the company of criminals), his return to the New England area for the launch of his pro career (i.e., he was too close to the people who led him down the wrong path), his lawyers’ flawed tactics in the Lloyd case (i.e., if Hernandez had Jose Baez defending him in both cases, Hernandez may have been exonerated), and/or football (i.e., CTE contributed to his murderous rages), the documentary attempts to make the viewer think that Hernandez was just one or two twists of fate from never having killed Odin Lloyd, never having gone to prison, never having taken his own life there.

The deeper unspoken message is that a similar chain of events could otherwise derail the life of any normal, All-American kid.

It’s a tough sell. But the documentary definitely tries to do it, from wedging into the narrative former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan (who comments on the stress of concealing homosexuality) and former NFL player Chris Borland (who famously retired after only one year due to concerns over concussions). Neither had any connection whatsoever to Hernandez. O’Callaghan played for the Patriots, but he was gone from the NFL before Hernandez was even drafted. Ditto for Borland, whose one-year career happened in 2014, while Hernandez was awaiting trial for the Lloyd murder. But their stories help give credence to the vague notion that homosexuality and/or head injuries helped turn a regular guy into a murderer.

For those who knew little or nothing about the Hernandez case, the documentary easily could create confusion regarding how the story unfolded and, as to some of the material included in the series, the point of it. For those who knew the situation well, there wasn’t much that was new, other than Hernandez’s love of Harry Potter books and the aborted efforts by prosecutors in the Furtado/de Abreu case to bolster a flimsy motive by arguing that Hernandez’s short fuse came from his repressed homosexuality.

Perhaps the most compelling moment comes when the prosecution in the Lloyd case calls Patriots owner Robert Kraft to testify, and Hernandez immediately adopts the anxious demeanor of a child who got in trouble at school and was told by his mother, “Wait ’til your father gets home.” Maybe in those chillingly sad images of Hernandez repeatedly looking back to the doors to the courtroom, waiting for Kraft to enter, some of the threads of quasi-justification gain some credence. Even though Hernandez killed Lloyd, probably killed Furtado and de Abreu (the acquittal came days before Hernandez’s suicide), and shot Alexander Bradley in the face and left him to die, maybe with the right guidance and discipline Hernandez wouldn’t have embarked on a path that ended four lives, and that irreparably harmed many others.

Again, it’s a tough sell. Hernandez, by all appearances and indications, was a bad guy who knew how to flip the switch back and forth when it suited his interests to do so. While it’s impossible to find a smoking gun that would absolve him from using the literally smoking gun, the ensuing collection of speculative theories aimed at excusing his behavior is far more frustrating than informative.

James Urban, Bobby Engram will remain on Ravens coaching staff

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The Eagles’ search for new offensive coaches led them to request interviews with a couple of Ravens assistants, but neither coach is expected to leave Baltimore this offseason.

There was word this week that the Eagles were interested in Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban for their offensive coordinator vacancy and head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that was the case during a Friday press conference. He also said that Philly wanted to speak to tight ends coach Bobby Engram, but that neither coach will be joining Doug Pederson’s staff.

“Both of those guys were requested by the Eagles for jobs,” Harbaugh said. “We ended up granting both of their requests and gave the Eagles a chance to talk to those guys and those guys a chance to talk to the Eagles. Both of those guys pulled out just in the last 24 [hours].”

Harbaugh added that he doesn’t anticipate any changes to the Ravens coaching staff before next season.

Mike Mayock: Players, agents very aware of no income tax in Vegas

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The Raiders are heading to Las Vegas for the 2020 season and General Manager Mike Mayock thinks that is going to be helpful to the team’s offseason.

Specifically, Mayock believes that the change in home will be a selling point for teams in free agency. He noted the excitement about the new start and the new stadium in explaining that belief, but not before noting that the tax situation has advantages over California.

“I think first and foremost, we go from a 13 percent state tax in California to a zero percent state tax in Nevada,” Mayock said, via the team’s website. “The players and their agents are very aware of that. I’ve heard more comments about what our new stadium looks like. You know, that, that black exterior, the sleekness of it. . . . I think there’s a real excitement about Jon Gruden leading the Raiders into Las Vegas and it extends financially, extends to our facilities, we’re gonna be a first rate operation in every single facet and I think that energy will trickle through into free agency.”

The best financial deal is often the one that free agents wind up taking, so Mayock may be right about a rise in the appeal of joining the Raiders in their first season as Nevada residents. We’ll find out for sure in a couple of months.