NFL football analysis

Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker are no-shows at New York Jets OTAs; holding out for Ryan Fitzpatrick?

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Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker are no-shows at New York Jets OTAs; holding out for Ryan Fitzpatrick?

Ryan Fitzpatrick obviously didn't show up to the first two days of Jets organized training activities, as he remains without a contract amid ongoing negotiations. But neither did the two prolific receivers who so often get the credit for the 33-year-old quarterback's success.

Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall were no-shows at Wednesday's OTA practice. Seven-time Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold was also absent. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey told reporters the three weren't present at the team's first OTA practice the day before either.

Per the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta on Twitter, Mangold's wife gave birth Wednesday, explaining the center's absence. But were New York's wideouts absences in relation to the Jets' continued low-balling of Fitzpatrick?

The Jets have reportedly offered Fitzpatrick a contract worth around $8 million, which is just more than half his reported target of $15 million. The average salary for the NFL's non-rookie starting quarterbacks is $17.5 million.

The gap in values can be explained by what each believes is the cause of Fitzpatrick's success in 2015, when the career journeyman threw for a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes to go along with 3,905 yards, both easily career highs. General manager Mike Maccagnan is operating under the belief that so much of it can be explained by Decker and Marshall, who posted 1,027 and 1,502 yards, respectively, and combined for 27 of the 31 scores. It was Decker's third season of at least 1,000 yards and Marshall's eighth.

But their absence begs the question of whether they feel slighted by their own organization's attempts to play the quarterback position on the cheap this season. The Jets spent a second-round pick on former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, largely seen as a developmental backup. Without Fitzpatrick, they are currently slated to have the rookie compete against Geno Smith, who has eight more interceptions than touchdowns in his three-year career, and 2015 fourth-rounder Bryce Petty.

Of course, these practices are voluntary, as coach Todd Bowles reminded the media Wednesday, but veterans typically have a reason for missing, whether it's contractual, family or otherwise. Marshall's and Decker's absences certainly raise questions, and Bowles said himself he's ready for this contract dispute to be over.

"Just tell me when it's done," Bowles described as his approach to Maccagnan on the issue.

The way we see it

As we wrote about in The Way We Hear It, the Jets' quarterback dilemma is creeping into a territory of being the joke of the league. It started as a legitimate tough question of value for both sides, but the more the Jets continue to grossly low-ball their former starter without a single other quarterback on the roster who seems capable of starting right now, the more they're going to create confusion within their own locker room.

It's too early to definitively say that that's what's happening with Marshall and Decker, but it's certainly not a good sign, and it's all just more lost time they could be having with Fitzpatrick to try to take last year's gaudy production to new heights.

Hub Arkush: Chicago Bears fans shouldn't have to worry about inside linebacker anymore

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Hub Arkush: Chicago Bears fans shouldn't have to worry about inside linebacker anymore

Many credit the Chicago Bears' Bill George (1952-1965) with establishing and making popular the middle linebacker position.

Others cite Sam Huff, who played the position as a rookie in Tom Landry’s 1956 Giants NFL championship defense, which was the first pure 4-3 base defense as opposed to a 5-2-4 or 6-1-4.

Chuck Bednarik (Eagles), Joe Schmidt (Lions) and Les Richter (Rams) were all early-adopters as well and all five are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

While we can debate forever who was first, there is zero argument as to which NFL team has the richest tradition at the position.

George ceded his starting job to a rookie in ’65 named Dick Butkus, and Butkus went on to be nearly universally acclaimed as the greatest middle linebacker ever and some believe the best defensive player in the history of the game.

After Butkus, Mike Singletary came along and Samurai, as he came to be known, would eventually follow George and Butkus into the Hall.

Improbably it was just eight seasons after Singletary retired that the Bears drafted Brian Urlacher and he will join his three predecessors in Canton in either 2018 or almost certainly no later than 2019.

Other than the Bears startling history at running back – Red Grange, George McAfee, Bronco Nagurski, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton – is there another team that has displayed such a rich tradition at any one position?

Of course this points to Bears fans disappointment over the drastic plunge Bears middle/inside linebacking has taken since Urlacher’s retirement, and the startling juxtaposition of it being the greatest weakness of the team last season.

Whether it has anything to do with Ryan Pace’s and John Fox’s rapid and radical moves to fix the problem is unknown. But with second-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s reputation as one of the best inside linebacker coaches in the league and the free agency signings of both Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, it appears the fix is in.

Here’s what Trevathan had to say about being a Bear Wednesday.

“I love the game of football and I love being around guys who love the game of football," Trevathan said. "I want to be great at it. I did some things but I still want to have a long career out here. What better team to do it with than the Bears?”

As for teaming with Freeman inside in the Bears relatively new 3-4 scheme Trevathan said, “We can feed off each other. I've seen him around the league and I'm like I like the way he plays.

“I like his attitude and the way he hits the linemen and he hits fullbacks and he's just aggressive," Trevathan continued. "That's what you want in a MIKE and a linebacker as well. “He thinks he 's faster than me but I doubt that. He's quick though and we're going to feed off that and we're definitely going to eat out here on this field.”

Freeman said of his decision to come to the Bears and join Trevathan, “I talked to Danny before I signed and Danny was like ‘Yeah you should come, we’re going to have a good thing. It’s a great defense and I know all about it.’

“They were No. 14 last year on defense in a transition," Freeman continued. "I went through that transition in Indy with a 4-3 going to a 3-4. I knew if they were that good coming off that transition, then there are a lot of things that can go right.”

Pro Football Weekly recently completed a survey of NFL coaches, scouts and analysts to rank the top players in the NFL at every position.

While it is unlikely at the moment either Freeman or Trevathan are ticketed for Canton, they ranked fourth and eighth respectively among active inside linebackers in the league today.

No other club has two inside linebackers in the top 10, and it appears the middle of the Bears defense just may once again be no man’s land for opposing offenses.

• Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush can be reached at harkush@profootballweekly.com and on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

Chicago Bears Notes: Jerrell Freeman settling is as defensive play-caller

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Chicago Bears Notes: Jerrell Freeman settling is as defensive play-caller

LAKE FOREST — Jay Cutler was the first one to text Jerrell Freeman after he signed with the Bears in March, which is quite the gesture considering the connection the two have.

In Freeman’s NFL debut, Week One of 2012, he picked off a Cutler pass and returned it for a touchdown.

“No, I haven’t [mentioned it to Cutler],” Freeman said with a laugh following Wednesday’s OTA at Halas Hall. “I might wait to bring that up. I might keep that in my back pocket.”

Freeman remembers being stunned to be in the end zone, calling it a “welcome to the NFL moment,” but he also recalls his new teammate “smoking us for the rest of the game.” Cutler threw for 333 yards and two scores in the 41-21 Bears win.

Along with Danny Trevathan, Freeman forms the brand-new inside linebacker duo for Vic Fangio and Chicago. Even though he has logged four very productive NFL seasons, Freeman is still going to be known as the NFL player from Mary Hardin-Baylor University, and for his time in the CFL. And he’s just fine with that.

“It’s just the type of player I am. You can see it on the field. I play every play like it’s my last one,” he said. “Just running around. I take pride in just being that guy that worked from the ground all the way up. I’m still learning, still doing a lot of things, getting better. Getting much better. I’m liking that.”

Freeman is calling the plays for what he calls a “linebacker-friendly” defense, and he knows the goal is to “get the ball back to 6 anytime you can.”

The more he is able to do that, the easier it may be to remind "6" about that throw four years ago.

Jeffery absent: As expected, Alshon Jeffery was not present for the OTA, the second of 10 the Bears will hold and the first of three open to the media. Jeffery should be at the mandatory veteran minicamp in mid-June. He has signed his franchise tender, and the two sides have until July 15 to get a long-term deal done.

“Of course everyone wants Alshon here. That’s his business,” said Kevin White, who got plenty of targets from Cutler in his return from missing his rookie season. “I just have to focus on myself and I’m trying to get better.”

Pernell McPhee was not on the field for practice. He had arthroscopic surgery on his knee in the offseason.

New leader of the backs: Jeremy Langford is the No. 1 back as the Bears begin their preparation for the 2016 season, taking the torch from the second-most productive back in team history, Matt Forte.

“Being behind Matt I think is the best opportunity I could have had as a running back coming in,” Langford said. “Even when he left … for me, when he took me under his wing and taught me things, that’s the same thing I want to do when one day I might be in that position. Especially playing running back, you get older. So some thing I want to do myself is just that pass that along because that’s what he did for me.”

Professors of physics and engineering support Tom Brady's rehearing request for reinstated 'Deflategate' suspension

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Professors of physics and engineering support Tom Brady's rehearing request for reinstated 'Deflategate' suspension

After Tom Brady this week officially requested a rehearing from the second circuit court that reinstated his four-game 'Deglategate' suspension last month, the court is gathering the opinions of professors in the fields of physics and engineering.

And those opinions, from 21 professors from eight different educational institutions including Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, state the suspension lacks crucial scientific support.

"In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing,” papers including the experts' opinion read, according to an AP report.

It's unsurprising, the experts think, that footballs from the 2014 AFC Championship game lost air pressure, because that's a natural occurence when they're brought from one temperature to another.

"This is not tampering. It is science. And it pervades the NFL," the papers read. "Games routinely are played with footballs that fall below the league’s minimum pressure requirement. Courts should not be powerless to consider the absence of scientific proof when a proceeding is so interlaced with laws of science.”

Brady's legal team and the NFLPA are seeking the entire 13-judge panel to reconsider last month's 2-1 ruling, which reinstated Brady's four-game ban imposed by Roger Goodell last year.

The way we see it

Well, no kidding. It's been clear from the outset that Goodell's punishment for Brady not only didn't fit the crime, but whether any rules breaking had even occured was unclear.

It's encouraging the court is actually leaning on experts in this matter before deciding whether to rehear Brady's case, which would be a rare but fair step.

New Pittsburgh Steelers TE Ladarius Green not at OTAs due to ankle surgery

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New Pittsburgh Steelers TE Ladarius Green not at OTAs due to ankle surgery

The Steelers' newest tight end will have to wait before he starts running drills with perhaps the most prolific offense in the NFL.

Ladarius Green is still recovering from the ankle surgery he had before leaving the Chargers to sign with the Steelers earlier this spring. The surgery was to fix an issue that had cost him down the stretch of his best NFL season yet, a 429-yard, four-touchdown, 11-start season in his fourth year in the league.

The Steelers are hoping to have him back in time for training camp at the end of July.

"I just know kind of the things I've heard and seen with him and the Chargers. I'm excited to have him out here, just not sure when that's going to be," Ben Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We spent some time talking behind the scenes a little bit, behind practice. So I hope mentally, he'll be ready to go, when he's physically ready."

The 6-foot-6, 237-pound Green is looking to replace Heath Miller, who held the tight-end spot down in Pittsburgh for 11 years before his retirement this spring. The Steelers ranked third in the league in passing last season but will be without speedy outside receiver Martavis Bryant for the whole season following his year-long suspension for substance abuse.

Kyle Long: Forte, Slauson departures created 'large voids to be filled' on Chicago Bears

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Kyle Long: Forte, Slauson departures created 'large voids to be filled' on Chicago Bears

LAKE FOREST — From his own position to team personnel, it's another offseason of turnover for Kyle Long.

The Bears' three-time Pro Bowler is back at his 2013-14 right guard post, and though he admitted after the OTA on Wednesday that some reacclimating will be required after kicking inside from the right edge, he was more interested in discussing his new practice foe.

"It's different," said Long. "But being given the opportunity to go against Akiem Hicks every day, a guy that I played against in the past, it's gonna be a battle every day. ... I know I'll benefit from playing against him."

Long lauded the growth of Hicks, whom he faced twice when Hicks was a Saint, singling out his increasingly "creative" rush repertoire.

He played coy about another position change, but Long opened up about the departures of Matt Forte and Matt Slauson. He admitted the moves left "large voids to be filled" but praised the Bears' "horizontal leadeship" structure to do just that.

"We’ve done a great job bringing in the right people, defensively, offensively and the special teams unit," Long said. "I love the coaches, I love the guys on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue, so I don’t really have to take on that much bigger of a role because of the guys that we have in our room. Everybody is kind of accountable themselves.”

Long said spending his first three seasons with Slauson helped teach him about accountability.

"The Slauson thing was really tough for me because he's a guy that took me under his wing and showed me everything about being a pro," he said. "Didn't just talk about it; I got to watch him everyday and see him do it the right way and I wish him nothing but the best in San Diego."

As for his new offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains, Long said his swagger rubs off on everyone. Without divulging any new offensive wrinkles, he predicted a smooth transition from Adam Gase.

"I don’t think there’s a lot of turnover in terms of the relationships with the players he has. He does a great job of relating to everybody," Long said. "Also his confidence, he’s got a bit of swagger, it emanates through the building and there’s a trickle-down effect there. ... It’s still early, so you’ll see a lot of translate with his thought process.”

"Early" is the operative word with Long. Unlike last season, when he was moved to tackle six days before the opener, he has the full offseason to grow.

"It's a different position again, but I've played it before so we should be good," he said. "We've got a couple weeks to shake off the rust here and get ready for camp and get ready for the season."

And particularly for an O-line likely to have three new starters — right tackle Bobbie Massie, either Ted Larsen or rookie Cody Whitehair at left guard and Long back in his best spot — it's invaluable.

"There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got to gel," Long explained. "You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they’ve said, ‘We didn’t really gel until the end of training camp,’ or ‘it took us until training camp.’ So there’s going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a technical standpoint, from a live football standpoint, but I think we’ll be all right.”

With Patriots' support, Tom Brady files request for en banc hearing of 'Deflategate' suspension

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With Patriots' support, Tom Brady files request for en banc hearing of 'Deflategate' suspension

Tom Brady and the NFLPA made it official Monday, requesting a rehearing from the second circuit court of Roger Goodell's four-game suspension for 'Deflategate' that was upheld last month after being initially overturned last September.

Then on Tuesday, the Patriots filed an amicus brief in support of that appeal.

In legal documents obtained by NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Brady's legal team writes, "Goodell's biased, agenda-driven and self-appealing 'appeal' ruling must be vacated. Although his arbital authority was contractually limited to hearing appeals of disciplinary decisions, Goodell upheld Brady's punishment based on different grounds that were not the basis for his original disciplinary decision.

"In doing so, Goodell did not even mention or discuss the collectively bargained penalties for equipment-related violatiions — the very misconduct he alleged. A divided panel of this Court affirmed Goodell in a decision that repudiates long-standing labor laws principles and that, if left undisturbed, will fuel unpredictability in labor arbitrations everywhere and make labor arbitration increasingly capricious and undesirable for employers and employees alike."

The NFL Players Association released a statement on Monday as well.

"The union has always stood for protecting the rights of our members. Our filing of this appeal today on behalf of Tom Brady and all NFL players is no different. He was not afforded fundamental fairness and due process as guaranteed by the collective bargaining agreement and case law. We also know that the NFL propped up a now completely debunked 'independent' report with a made-up standard as the basis for his suspension.

"For 60 years, we have affirmed the right to seek redress for our members, and we will always hold the NFL accountable."

It remains to be seen whether Brady's team will have its en banc hearing granted. If not, taking the case to the Supreme Court is the next — and likely last — course of action toward getting Brady on the field in Week One.

Stay tuned. Today's news assures 'Deflategate' will be part of the NFL's offseason conversation for the foreseeable future.

Bills GM Doug Whaley walks back statement that humans weren't made to play football

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Bills GM Doug Whaley walks back statement that humans weren't made to play football

The widely-restrictive media policy the Bills instituted Tuesday — which the Buffalo News' Tyler Dunne clarified are for OTA's and minicamp, not training camp — might not be the most eye-popping tidbit of the day.

Speaking during a segment on WGR 550 sports radio Tuesday morning, general manager Doug Whaley discussed linebacker Shaq Lawson and wide receiver Sammy Watkins' injury issues. He wouldn't commit a timetable for either, but he also dismissed a notion Watkins is injury-prone, citing he's missed three career games.

"This is the game of football, and injuries are part of it. It's a violent game, and I personally don't think humans are supposed to play," Whaley said.

Following a Monday report from Outside the Lines citing an investigation by the United States Congress indicating the league's top health officials tried to affect the government's study on football and brain issues, and considering Whaley's high-profile job, the comments might come as a surprise. They received some backlash in the media Tuesday, which prompted Whaley to release a clarifying statement through the Bills.

"Cearly, I used a poor choice of words in my comment yesterday morning," he said in the statement. "As a former player who has the utmost respect and love for the game, the point that I was trying to make is that football is a physical game and injuries are a part of it. Playing football no doubt is very physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, and that is all part of what makes the game so compelling to play and watch.

"The game has more protection for players now than ever, thanks largely to the safety advancements and numerous rule changes made by our league and promoted to all levels of football. I believe our game continues to have a bright future, and I hope that this statement provides clarity as to the intent of my earlier comment."

When asked to comment on Whaley's remarks on Tuesday, Bills coach Rex Ryan told reporters, "I love the game. I think it's the greatest sport."

Watkins had surgery on his broken left foot earlier in the offseason and had it in a walking boot during the team's Tuesday OTA practice, per multiple reports.

Tracking the first-round draft pick signings

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Tracking the first-round draft pick signings

Here are the first-round picks who have agreed to terms with their new teams, listed in order of draft pick:

• The Eagles and former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz (No. 2 overall) agreed to terms. It's obvious Wentz was drafted to eventually become the full-time starter at some point, but the team has also stood by Sam Bradford, whom ended his short-lived trade request a number of weeks ago. Executive Vice President Howie Roseman already declared Bradford the starting quarterback, but has also invested heavily in three quarterbacks that also includes likely backup Chase Daniel, whom followed Doug Pederson to Philly from Kansas City.

• The Cowboys inked running back Zeke Elliott (No. 4) to a deal reportedly worth $24.9 million guaranteed ($16.3 million signing bonus). Two years removed from giving DeMarco Murray 449 touches, Big 'D' is fully expecting to get a big instant return on its Elliott investment.

• The Jaguars and former Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey (No. 5) agreed to terms. Ramsey suffered a small meniscus tear last Thursday, but underwent successful surgery the team announced Tuesday. His recovery is expected to allow him to return by training camp.

• The Ravens and former Notre Dame offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley (No. 6) agreed to terms. Following a reportedly failed attempt by the Cowboys to entice the Ravens to move up two spots for a premium price of a third-rounder and select Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Ravens snagged their presumptive left tackle of the future. As Ozzie Newsome put it in an ESPN piece by Jamison Hensley shortly following the draft, "We know left tackles," DeCosta said of Stanley. "We've been around some Hall of Fame left tackles. He'll make us a better offense and a better team."

• The 49ers and former Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (No. 7) agreed to terms. He'll reunite with former Ducks teammate Arik Armstead, whom was drafted 17th overall last year, where Chip Kelly will turn to the pair to help lead a new age of defensive dominance left by stars Justin Williams and Patrick Willis.

• The Titans and former Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin (No. 8) agreed to terms. The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder projects to slide in at right tackle, but has the versatility to play guard. Byron Bell sustained a likely season-ending ankle injury Tuesday, but the Titans will have to count on an offensive line that it has invested high draft picks and money into keeping franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota upright after the second overall pick in 2015 was sacked 38 times as a rookie. One reason the Titans and general manager Jon Robinson liked him so much was he embodied team qualities to the "nth degree".

• The Giants and former Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple (No. 10) agreed to terms. Prior to Apple finding his way to the Big Apple, the 20-year-old was anonymously critiqued by a scout for having "no life skills" but still found himself as a top-10 selection. He'll be expected to slide into a defense – possibly in the slot in the early going – that has seen heavy investment in free agency over the offseason.

• The Buccaneers and former Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (No. 11) agreed to terms. Following a trade down with Chicago from No. 9 to No. 11, Tampa still secured the 20-year-old who has has the traits needed to be a top cover corner in the NFL for the 2015 26th-ranked defense. Tampa hopes Hargreaves can comfortably pair with veteran corner Brent Grimes with the previous regime's Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner in reserve roles.

• The Saints and former Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (No. 12) agreed to terms. All offseason, a popular narrative has been to improve a defense that allowed 29.8 points per game last season, good for last in the league. Rankins will likely slide into a starting tackle spot on a line that features two-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan and former first-round pick Nick Fairley to hopefully provide a disruptive pass rush consistently.

• The Dolphins and former Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (No. 13) agreed to terms. Tunsil's entry into the league was truly a spectacle of sorts following his widely-documented draft slide following a video appearing to show Tunsil using a bong and a gas mask. Tunsil later admitted to reporters he accepted money while playing collegiately at Mississippi. With the post-draft fiasco behind him, Tunsil appears to be slated for a guard role in the early-going of his career with Brandon Albert and Ja'Wuan James entrenched at both tackles spots for now.

• The Raiders and former West Virginia safety Karl Joseph (No. 14) agreed to terms. While a potential move to Las Vegas at some point is still relatively hazy, the Raiders continued to invest heavily in a defense throughout the offseason that is looking to challenge the Denver Broncos in the AFC West. Coming off a torn ACL still in college, Joseph is a player Pro Football Weekly's Hub Arkush believes will be a 'killer in the box' and projects as a starter paired with Reggie Nelson in a secondary that includes cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson.

• The Browns and former Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman (No. 15) agreed to terms. Part of a barrage of receivers drafted in hopes of providing an offensive spark, Coleman and the other rookies needed to get in shape in the view of head coach Hue Jackson. The Browns already jettisoned Brian Hartline and are waiting on whether the embattled Josh Gordon can be reinstated.

• The Falcons and former Florida safety Keanu Neal (No. 17) agreed to terms. He was the first, first-rounder to sign his rookie deal for a Dan Quinn-led team looking to make noise in a crowded NFC South. Neal will be expected to start on a defense that allowed 21.6 points-per game, and while Pro Football Weekly's Hub Arkush was stunned the Falcons took him as high as 17, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff believes he is a top safety for their system.

• The Colts and former Alabama center Ryan Kelly (No. 18 overall) agreed to terms. A main concern for the Colts this past offseason was finding ways to keep franchise quarterback Andrew Luck on his feet following a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle last year. Kelly, one of four lineman Indianapolis used draft picks on, should easily slide into the starting center job.

• Washington and former TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson (No. 22) agreed to terms. The Washington franchise continued the mini-run on receivers following the Texans nabbing Will Fuller. The 2015 All-American is expected to be another lethal weapon for quarterback Kirk Cousins and provide help to veterans DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon on the heels of winning the NFC East last season.

• The Vikings and former Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (No. 23) agreed to terms. He's received comparisons to Anquan Boldin from one NFC Scout and Pro Football Weekly's Greg Gabriel believes Treadwell could eventually become a No. 1 receiver, which will be a welcomed addition to third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's expected progression following the Vikings securing the NFC North title last season.

• The Cardinals and former Mississippi defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (No. 29) agreed to terms. Arizona had to be thrilled when Nkemdiche, a top-10 talent according to Pro Football Weekly's Greg Gabriel, fell to the bottom half of the first round. The former Mississippi star has the versatility to play both end and tackle, but sees himself more of a three-technique.

• The Panthers and former Louisiana Tech defensive lineman Vernon Butler (No. 30) agreed to terms. Butler joins an impressive supporting cast in the trenches for the 2015 Super Bowl runner-up, including 2013 first-round pick Star Lotulelei and 2013 second-round defensive tackle Kwann Short. Keeping in mind former cornerback Josh Norman's widely-documented departure from Carolina and recent draft trends, Carolina appears to be placing a high premium on its defensive line. Butler can probably figure to cycle in and contribute early.

PFW's Super 50: Ranking the league's best players regardless of position

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PFW's Super 50: Ranking the league's best players regardless of position

As we count down to the return of football, it's time to rank some players.

The Pro Football Weekly team recently combined to rank the top 50 players in the NFL regardless of position. We're calling it the Super 50.

At 1 p.m. Eastern each week day between now and training camp, we'll post a new member of the Super 50, counting down from 50 all the way to 1.

Here's our list so far:

No. 50: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 49: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

No. 48: Josh Norman, CB, Washington

No. 47: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, New England Patriots

No. 46: Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore Ravens

No. 45: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

No. 44: Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers

No. 43: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

PFW Super 50: No. 43 Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley

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PFW Super 50: No. 43 Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley

As we count down to the return of football, it's time to rank the best players in the league.

The Pro Football Weekly team recently combined to rank the top 50 players in the NFL regardless of position. We call it the Super 50.

At 1 p.m. Eastern Time each weekday between now and training camp, we'll post a new member of the Super 50, counting down from 50 all the way to 1.

No. 50: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 49: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

No. 48: Josh Norman, CB, Washington

No. 47: Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

No. 46: Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore Ravens

No. 45 Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

No. 44 Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers

No. 43 Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

2015 stats and honors: Pro Bowl. Second-team All-Pro. AP and PFWA Offensive Rookie of the Year. 229 carries for 1,106 yards (4.8 YPC) and 10 TDs; 21 catches for 188 yards (9.0 ypc).

Why No. 43: Gurley's 566 rushing yards in Weeks 3-7 is the most ever by an NFL back in his first four starts. That the 6-foot-1, 226-pounder was the NFL's third-leading rusher with 1,106 yards despite playing in just 13 games at less than full strength after his Nov. 2014 ACL tear makes his debut season that much rarer — and likely just a glimpse of what's next.

After missing Weeks 1-2 and receiving just seven touches in Week Three as the Rams showed patience with the 10th overall pick coming off ACL reconstruction, Gurley ran roughshod over the league and into the record books. The Rams went 4-1 in Gurley's five 100-yard rushing days.

Considered by many the heir to Adrian Peterson, the most physically gifted back of his generation, Gurley has all the elite traits of a blue-chipper: breakaway speed, tackle-breaking power, extraordinary hands, vision and short-area quickness. But the run that best defines his rookie season and showcased his perimter speed was relatively ordinary.

Leading by two points with just 77 seconds remaining in Week Four, Gurley found daylight off left end, eyeing his first NFL touchdown — before giving himself up after 21 yards at the Arizona 8. With the Cardinals out of timeouts, Gurley showed the awareness and selflessness to forego the score and help ensure his team secured a divisional road upset.

Beyond his tremendous talents, Gurley showed special grit and determination to overcome the knee injury. He demonstrated on that play he's the complete package, the face of the franchise from the NFL's second-largest market, worthy of carrying such a mantle in today's passing league. With more time under his belt, he shouldn't have a problem shooting up these rankings in future years.

Hub Arkush: Why I can't wait to hear Ted Olson make the case for Tom Brady in Deflategate

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Hub Arkush: Why I can't wait to hear Ted Olson make the case for Tom Brady in Deflategate

And you thought Deflategate was over and Tom Brady would be spending the first four weeks of the 2016 NFL season in the woodshed?

On Monday, Brady’s All-Pro team of attorneys, led by its latest free agent superstar signee, Ted Olson requested an en banc hearing in front of the second circuit court of appeals in Manhattan in the hopes the court would overrule the decision rendered by its three judge panel on April 25, upholding the four-game suspension.

The significance of the en banc hearing, if it’s approved, is that the NFL’s appeal of a lower court ruling throwing out the Goodell-issued suspension would be re-heard in front of all 13 judges who serve on the second circuit.

The hearing can only be granted if at least seven of the 13 judges vote to hear it.

We know going in that Brady trails in the vote count 2-to-1 because that was the vote of the three judges who initially heard the appeal.

Since it is highly unlikely any of those three will now switch sides, Brady needs six of the remaining 10 judges to rule in his favor.

Does that make him an underdog? I’m not so sure.

Unlike it seems everything we hear these days about the Supreme Court, the conservative or liberal leanings of this particular circuit panel wouldn’t appear to impact this case.

I doubt that being a Republican or a Democrat would make a football fan or any John Doe more likely to lean one way or the other on this particular matter.

If this is a level playing field, a certain Hall Of Famer who may be the greatest player of all time and has won over 76 percent of his games should be able to swing 60 percent of these judges, shouldn’t he?

There is also the fact that the dissenting judge, Robert Katzman, was adamant in his dissent. Since he is the Chief Judge on this panel, his fellow judges could be more likely to want to hear for themselves what their leader so strongly disagreed with.

Then there is Mr. Olson who is now leading Brady’s cause. He is the former Solicitor General of the United States, has argued 62 cases in front of the Supreme Court and was the lead attorney in convincing the Supreme Court to award the Presidency to George W. Bush over Al Gore.

Olson is good as it gets at having his argument heard and if I were a betting man I’d say Brady gets his hearing.

The most significant result of that is it's highly unlikely the hearing would take place before the beginning of the 2016 season and the second circuit would then be asked to stay the three-judge panel’s ruling until after the hearing.

The court would have to agree, as there would be no point to hearing the case after the suspension took place and Brady would be on the field for opening day.

Whether the rest of the legal proceedings would then take place during the season or after is unclear.

As for the eventual outcome assuming the en banc hearing is granted, that’s anybody’s guess.

All judges whether they be conservative, liberal, or anything else are loathe to overturn the rulings of neutral arbitrators, and the current (2011) Collective Bargaining Agreement couldn’t be more clear on Goodell’s right to rule on the issue and levy punishment.

But what Olson hopes to prove in front of the 13 judges is that there was nothing neutral or objective about Goodell’s handling of the issue. He hopes to prove that in fact the overwhelming weight of the evidence screams there was no violation of the rules at all, that Brady – love him or hate him – is completely innocent of these charges and that Goodell acted with a complete disregard for due process, basic fairness or right and wrong.

If you’ve read the infamous Wells Report you know that Brady and Olson have a hell of a case, and Olson’s argument is one I can’t wait to hear, assuming he gets the chance to make it.

• Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush can be reached at harkush@profootballweekly.com and on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

Report: Dallas Cowboys OG Ronald Leary skips OTAs, requests trade

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Report: Dallas Cowboys OG Ronald Leary skips OTAs, requests trade

After only four starts in 2015 and the emergence of guard La'el Collins, veteran Cowboys guard Ronald Leary has apparently seen enough. The 31-game starter in 2013-14 has reportedly requested a trade from Big 'D'.

Leary, 27, has been a no-show for offseason activities and was not present on the first day of the team's organized team activities on Tuesday, per ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer. The fourth-year guard lost his starting job last season to Collins, an undrafted rookie, and was relegated to 12 games on the inactive list.

Leary signed his restricted-free agent tender for $2.553 million in hopes of a trade. Executive vice president Stephen Jones would not “give away” the former 2012 undrafted free agent when teams reportedly called the Cowboys during the past draft on the 6-foot-3, 320-pounder's availability.

Leary is set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2016 season.

The way we see it

Whether or not a potential trade could happen, perhaps the Tennessee Titans are a fit given left guard Byron Bell likely went down for the season following a dislocated ankle during today's OTA practice. In that scenario, he would re-unite with former Cowboys teammate in running back DeMarco Murray, who led the league in rushing in 2014.

Atlanta, South Florida and Los Angeles secure Super Bowls in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively

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Atlanta, South Florida and Los Angeles secure Super Bowls in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively

A simple majority was all the NFL needed to secure Atlanta as the host site for the 2019 Super Bowl. With a new stadium scheduled to be completed in 2017, it will be the third Super Bowl the city has hosted.

Atlanta beat New Orleans in the final round after South Florida and Tampa Bay were eliminated for Super Bowl 53. But South Florida (Miami) quickly won the right to host Super Bowl 54 for the 2020 season.

Los Angeles, following the Rams' move to Inglewood, California, won Super Bowl 55 in 2021. It will be the city's eighth Super Bowl.

The Houston Texans (NRG Stadium) and the Minnesota Vikings with their new home (U.S. Bank) have already won the bids for Super Bowl 51 and 52, respectively.

“Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be an outstanding venue for the game and with all of the attractions and hotel rooms within a mile of the stadium this is going to be the most walkable Super Bowl ever," Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said via the stadium's website. "Atlanta has truly transformed since it last hosted the Super Bowl in 2000 and I’m grateful to the NFL and team owners for this very special opportunity.”

Nate Atkins: Buffalo Bills new media policy takes NFL insecurity to a childish extreme

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Nate Atkins: Buffalo Bills new media policy takes NFL insecurity to a childish extreme

The Bills' media relations staff sent out a media policy Tuesday that began with words laced in irony.

"The Buffalo Bills organization understands and appreciates the value of media coverage by local and national media outlets," it read.

Then, it dived into all the ways in which the team didn't want coverage of its organized training activites and minicamp practices, in a lengthy email split up by sections and subheads. The parts prohibiting strategic information such as trick plays or new formations are pretty standard across the NFL these days, but the Bills apparently also don't want to see any tweets, stories, broadcasts, photos, videos or sound bites that could reveal the following:

• Who rushed the passer

• If a pass was dropped

• If a pass was intercepted

• How many passes a quarterback completed

You can see how this might challenge a reporter's job to, you know, cover what's going on with the team and inform its fans during the dry part of the offseason.

The Bills have placed additional bans on reporting incidents that by their very nature are intended to be public. For example, if a player leaves a visual statement like a jersey or a sign at his locker during the league-mandated open-locker room sessions, they are to be treated as top-secret intelligence that cannot leave the premises.

So if someone on the Bills wants to send a message to his team, his fan and his city the way Matt Forte or Robert Griffin III did last year, he might want to consider reading it aloud to the reporters gathered at his locker. At least teams aren't allowed to prohibit verbal speech.

The media will always have a complex relationship with the pro sports team it covers. The two sides share a goal of providing fans with info on the team but have opposing definitions of what should be public. Nonetheless, proliferating info through a traditional, objective media is crucial in letting the fans know that the info they're receiving is the unadultered truth.

The current compromise is the media access policy, set forth by the Pro Football Writers Association and implemented by each club. In an email to the Associated Press on Tuesday, the PFWA called the Bills' approach "not only unnecessary, it is not in compliance" with the league policy.

Buffalo certainly isn't the first NFL club to play hardball like this. Bill Belichick stares into cameras as if they're recording a hostage video, and last year, the Bears tried to ban reporters from sharing info about the injuries and schemes at training camp that any fan with an iPhone could share with no restriction.

This has become a stiff league in many ways, and there's blame for that on both sides. You try to be understanding as a media member because the NFL is a grueling industry with almost no security, and coaches can't afford to give out pointers to their opponents the week before a game. Being vague on injuries and the schemes run in closed practices is an understandable approach for someone being molded under such immense pressure.

But banning info on the team just because it isn't positive enough is turning media angst into child's play. That Sammy Watkins dropped one pass or that Tyrod Taylor was just 7 of 14 on his throws on a given day in May will have as much impact on this year's wins and losses as sharing what kind of potatoes they're serving in the cafeteria.

The difference is that by banning the legitimate evaluation of players, you leave the fans — the ones wearing the jerseys and funding the stadiums, turning hard-earned dollars into support for a team that personifies their spirit — feeling detached from one of the few parts of life the people of a city feel like they own together.

This is football we're talking about. To ban negative but true reporting while promoting coverage of catches and touchdowns is to live in the clouds of insecurity, ones so fluffy they should leave any legend of this hard-nosed, no-nonsense game roiling in his own vomit.

As they showcased with the Shaq Lawson injury fiasco, the Bills are pretty content marching to the tune of an off-beat drum. Based on conversations with reporters who cover the team regularly, their isolationism really shouldn't be seen as a surprise.

But who knew Rex Ryan stumping for Donald Trump would wind up being only the second most insane approach the organization has taken in 2016.

Tennessee Titans OL Byron Bell suffers season-ending ankle injury in first voluntary OTA

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Tennessee Titans OL Byron Bell suffers season-ending ankle injury in first voluntary OTA

The Titans' new-look offensive line is already adjusting to its first audible of 2016.

Byron Bell, who started 16 games at right tackle in his first season with the Titans in 2015, suffered a season-ending dislocated ankle in the first voluntary offseason workout, coach Mike Mularkey confirmed Tuesday.

Bell, 27, was expected to compete for the left guard vacancy after the club selected Jack Conklin eighth overall to take over Bell's right tackle post. The sixth-year Bell has started 72 of 78 games in his career with Carolina and Tennessee, with most of those coming on the outside.

Tennessee has invested heavily in rebuilding its front five and run game under rookie general manager Jon Robinson, drafting Conklin and signing free-agent center Ben Jones. Tennessee permitted an NFL-high 54 sacks in 2015 and brought in a pair of new runners, DeMarco Murray via trade and Derrick Henry in the second round, to take heat off Marcus Mariota.

But Mularkey's club will have to adjust and likely roll with a less experienced option opposite Chance Warmack. Jeremiah Poutasi, who made seven starts at guard as a rookie in 2015, and Quinton Spain are candidates who'll be counted on to step up in Bell's absence.

Report: Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert to have ankle surgery, could miss three months

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Report: Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert to have ankle surgery, could miss three months

It appears the progression of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert's ankle has hit a speedbump just nearly four months following surgery.

The 25-year-old tight end will have what multiple league sources tell the Cincinnati Enquirer will be a "minimal procedure," and the timeframe is reportedly three months for recovery after he initally injured the anke during his first Pro Bowl trip last January.

ESPN's Adam Schefter cited a league source saying Eifert could miss the team's Sept. 11 opener against the Jets.

Heading into his fourth season after a productive career at Notre Dame, the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder started 12 games in 2015 and broke out with 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Bengals also picked up his fifth-year option earlier this offseason.

The way we see it

It's the latest bout of bad injury luck for Eifert. He's always been absurdly talented and finally showed that last year with 13 touchdowns, but it didn't seem to cure his fortunes. He's already missed 19 games through his first three seasons, and it looks like he could be in doubt for the opner this year.

What's important now is getting Eifert right, even if that means waiting until that big Sept. 18 reunion with the Steelers or potentially after that. He's fragile and also too important to a Bengals offense that lost receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, now badly in need of a safety valve in the passing game like the soft-handed Eifert can provide.

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell says he'll be 100 percent by training camp

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Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell says he'll be 100 percent by training camp

Le'Veon Bell is running and cutting and says he's on track to be 100 percent for training camp, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette shared Tuesday on Twitter.

Bell was poised for another monster campaign when he was hit low by Vontaze Burfict in Week Eight, suffering a badly torn MCL that ended his season. He thinks Cincinnati was targeting him, and Bell intends to take extra precautions to preserve himself in the future.

A Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro in 2014 (his only 16-game season in four years), Bell said Burfict texted him in March to tell him he was pleased to see the back's recovery was going well.

The way we see it

It's obviously a great sign for the Steelers that Bell is progressing quickly in his recovery. As impressive as DeAngelo Williams was pinch hitting last season, it's a lot to expect from the 33-year-old to repeat his yeoman's work.

But if Bell is healthy, it's not too much to expect Pittsburgh could have the NFL's most explosive offense, even without suspended Martavis Bryant. Bell is the NFL's premier do-it-all back, and, paired with Antonio Brown, he gives the Steelers as electrifying a skill-position duo as the NFL has anywhere. With Ben Roethlisberger triggering the attack, the sky is truly the limit for a healthy Pittsburgh offense.

As for the health of the Bengals-Steelers rivalry, it's a positive — and somewhat surprising — devleopment to hear Burfict reached out to Bell about his injury. We commend Burfict for showing sportsmanship after being a part of several really dirty plays last season. Perhaps he's learning after his dangerous helmet-to-helmet shot on Brown earned him a three-game ban. We hope so.

But we have little doubt Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, after the mercurial postseason bout was just the latest in a line of chippy encounters, will still have plenty of bad blood between them when the rivalry renews Sept. 18.

PFW Super 50: No. 44 Carolina Panthers C Ryan Kalil

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PFW Super 50: No. 44 Carolina Panthers C Ryan Kalil

As we count down to the return of football, it's time to rank the best players in the league.

The Pro Football Weekly team recently combined to rank the top 50 players in the NFL regardless of position. We call it the Super 50.

At 1 p.m. Eastern Time each weekday between now and training camp, we'll post a new member of the Super 50, counting down from 50 all the way to 1.

No. 50: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 49: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

No. 48: Josh Norman, CB, Washington

No. 47: Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

No. 46: Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore Ravens

No. 45 Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

No. 44: Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers

2015 honors: Pro Bowl, First-Team All-Pro, 15 starts in 15 games

Career honors: Five Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro selections, 115 starts in 118 games over nine seasons.

Why No. 44: When the Panthers selected Ryan Kalil in the second round in 2007, they had no idea he'd eventually snap to Cam Newton, who'd be handing off to Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, who'd all be combining for the league's most devastating multi-faceted running game eight years later.

But the approach started with the slimmer, athletic Kalil, who needed only a couple years of weight-room work to establish himself as a throwback investment. Ever since he became a full-time starter in 2008, the year Carolina took Stewart in the first round, the Panthers have finished no lower than 13th in rushing with four finishes in the top five. As the rest of the league moved more toward vertical passing offenses, here was a team building around a center who is as good in the ground game as any.

At 6 feet 3 and 299 pounds, Kalil isn't a brute-force center. Rather, he's the type to pull or jump out to the second level on a stretch run or scramble, which is what an offense with Newton does often. Rather than merely get the play going, Kalil is the leader of both the Panthers offensive line and the running game, both of which took strides nobody saw coming during last year's 15-1 run that featured the No. 2 rushing attack in the NFL.

As dominant as he is as a run blocker, Kalil can have his struggles in pass protection against bull-rushing interior players. That'll keep him below pass-oriented stars with better balance, although it's hard to find a lineman who has a bigger impact on his team's scheme and direction than Kalil does on a consistent basis.

NFL opens replay to penalties, proper down, spot fouls and game clock

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NFL opens replay to penalties, proper down, spot fouls and game clock

The NFL announced changes to its replay system Tuesday. The league is expanding reviewable plays to include game administration like penalty enforcement or proper down.

The changes were voted and agreed upon by NFL teams the spring league meeting in North Carolina.

Per the release from the NFL, the following instances were not previously part of the review process but now are: penalty enforcement, proper down, spot of the foul and the status of the game clock.

Additionally, a replay official typically used to confirm, for example, a score or interception, along the league office, may now consult with on-field officials to "provide information on the correct application of playing rules, including appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock."

This is a change the league tried during the playoffs last season.

"In situations in which time is deemed to have expired during or after the last play of the first or second half, or of an overtime period in the preseason or regular season, or of an overtime half in the postseason, a timing error is defined as having occurred only when the visual evidence demonstrates that more than one second should be put on the clock," the release states.

"In the first half, time shall be restored only if the additional play will be a snap from scrimmage. In the second half, time shall be restored only if it is a one-score game (eight points or less), and the additional play will be a snap from scrimmage by the team that is behind in the score, or by either team if the score is tied. A correction of a timing error for a team timeout may."

As for plays that are non-reviewable, the list remains as follows:

• Spot of the ball and runner:

(1) Runner ruled down by defensive contact or out of bounds (not involving fumbles or the line to gain). (2) The position of the ball not relating to first down or goal line. (3) Whether a runner’s forward progress was stopped before he went out of bounds or lost possession of the ball. (4) Whether a runner gave himself up.

• Miscellaneous:

(1) Field goal or try attempts that cross above either upright without touching anything.

(2) Erroneous whistle.

(3) Spot where an airborne ball crosses the sideline.

(4) Whether a player was blocked into a loose ball.

(5) Advance by a player after a valid or invalid fair-catch signal.

(6) Whether a player created the impetus that put the ball into an end zone.