Jimmy Graham will have a new uniform number with Seattle Seahawks

In addition to changing teams this week, former New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham will also change his uniform number. Graham said he might wear No. 88 with the Seattle Seahawks because the No. 80 he wore with the Saints is not available with the Seahawks.

Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent wore No. 80 for the Seahawks, and the number is one of three player-worn number retired by the team. Others are No. 71 for offensive tackle Walter Jones and No. 96 for defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.

Also retired his the No. 12 as a tribute to fans.

The Seahawks brought the No. 80 out of retirement in 2004 for Jerry Rice toward the end of his Hall of Fame career.

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proCane Free Agent Signing Roundup

A lot has happened in the last 48 hours in the NFL as far as Free Agent signings and our proCanes have been at the center of it all with several proCane stars joining new teams. See a recap of all the action below:

Former 49ers RB Frank Gore signed a 3-year $12 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Former Texans WR Andre Johnson signed a 3-year $21 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

TE Jimmy Graham was traded from the New Orleans Saints to Seattle Seahawks.

Former Giants S Antrel Rolle signed a 3-year $11.25 million contract with the Chicago Bears.

Former Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson signed a 1-year $1 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

OT Eric Winston re-signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Former Broncos OL Orlando Franklin signed a 5-year $36 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.

OT Jason Fox re-signed with the Miami Dolphins.

MLB Jon Beason re-signed with the NY Giants.

Notable proCane Free Agents still available: Chris Myers, Brandon Meriweather, Santana Moss, Colin McCarthy, Reggie Wayne, Vince Wilfork, DJ Williams, Darryl Sharpton.

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Vince Wilfork has three offers on the table from AFC teams

Former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has three offers -- worth approximately $10 million over two years -- on the table from unnamed AFC teams, according to Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel.

The Patriots declined Wilfork's option on March 5, making him a free agent as of Tuesday. The 33-year-old registered 516 combined tackles, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries and three interceptions through 11 seasons with the Patriots.

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Five Things About Falcons WR Leonard Hankerson

1. Something to Prove: Falcons wide receiver Leonard Hankersonicon-article-link has proven his determined will to thrive in the NFL, enduring one year of recovery time after suffering a knee injury on Nov. 17, 2013. He returned to action in 2014, playing in one game. Hankerson now joins the Falcons with plenty of motivation to showcase the talent that earned him a spot in the league in 2011.

2. Shanahan Familiarity: Hankerson reunites with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who worked with the receiver during the 2011-2013 seasons, which included 81 receptions for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns. In 2012, Hankerson's efforts helped Washington finish ninth in the NFL in total offense (369.7 yards per game).

3. Learning from the Best: A native of Florida, Hankerson played at the University of Miami and spends time in the Sunshine State training with one of the NFL's all-time best receivers, Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter. The type of workouts Carter puts his athletes through are the same kind that earned him a bust in Canton. Look for Hankerson to display all of his hard work with Carter on the field in 2015 and beyond.

4. Representing "The U”: The University of Miami (Fla.) has a strong reputation for the familial bond among its players, during college and far beyond. Hankerson arrives in Atlanta to new Falcons teammates, each a Hurricanes alum, wide receiver Devin Hestericon-article-link, guard Harland Gunnicon-article-link and punter Matt Boshericon-article-link.

5. Path to the Falcons: Hankerson began his NFL career after a busy draft day in 2011. He was selected by the Redskins with their third-round pick (79th overall), which came in addition to a fifth-round pick (146th overall) and a seventh-round pick (217th overall) via trade with the Miami Dolphins, who received a second-round pick in the same draft (62nd overall). Following his three seasons in Washington, Hankerson landed in Atlanta on the second day of 2015 NFL free agency, excited about the upcoming season with the Falcons.

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Antrel Rolle curious why ‘phenomenal’ Giants moved on

The Giants on Thursday bid adieu to Antrel Rolle with a video tribute entitled “Thank You Antrel,’’ and, in turn, he tweeted, “I miss you all already and I love y’all so much. U will always have a Giant in me.’’

So, why did the Giants allow their defensive captain to walk out the door without much of an effort to get him to stay?

“I asked myself the same question,’’ Antrel Rolle said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Rolle pretty much knew the answer. The Giants were headed in a different direction, wanting to get younger at the safety position. Rolle needed to continue his NFL career elsewhere, and Wednesday he headed to Chicago and signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract with the Bears.

Rolle arrived in 2010 and did not miss a game in his five years with the Giants. At 32, he wanted to return, but it wasn’t to be.

“It’s part of the business,’’ Rolle said. “They have their own set of goals and things they want to make happen, and I respect that entirely. The Giants were phenomenal to me for the last five years and I was phenomenal to them, so they didn’t owe me a thing and I didn’t owe them anything, just my warmth and my heart and just everything I put out there on the field for the last five years.’’

The decision, Rolle said, came down to the Bears and the Redskins, with the Broncos, Jets and Eagles also expressing interest.

“I’m a huge believer in going with your heart and going with your gut instinct, and these guys made such a huge impression on me once I first touched ground in Chicago,’’ Rolle said.

I just want to take this time to tell the organization., coaches, media department, cleaning staff, cafeteria staff, THE FANS,& more than ANYTHING MY TEAMMATES that I love u all dearly. This was the hardest decision that I ever had to make in my life. It's never easy when u have so many emotions involved and u have sooo much love for a place. NY is the only place that I call home away from home. You all have been so great to me and honestly I love you all to death for it. You all have me so many priceless memories that will never ever be forgotten. Once a Giant always a Giant and I sincerely believe in that. Moving on is a part of life and it's a part of business. I had to do what was best for my family and I. I want to make my son proud of his father and to continue to do that I had to go forward with my plan! NY is tattooed on my chest so just know I will be a Giant and a New Yorker forever. Love u all. See you on the other side. #WhereTrel@ #flipagram made with @flipagram

A video posted by @skilled_26 on

The presence of John Fox, entering his first year as Bears head coach, and Vic Fangio in his first year as defensive coordinator, helped convince Rolle to stay put in Chicago.

“For one, I study a lot of defenses, and coach Fangio was with the 49ers for the last several years and we all know their defense was phenomenal,’’ Rolle said. “I love the way he played his safeties. Coach Fox, it was just a breath of fresh air, he’s such a people person and such a down-to-earth and real individual man, he just made me feel very, very welcome.

“The most important thing, as a player and this being my 11th year, you want to go where a team makes you feel wanted, you want to go where a team make you feel they’re gonna appreciate you, therefore you’re gonna fight extra hard for them. These guys have been doing it since free agency, those guys have been calling my phone and making me feel really at home. It wasn’t really a hard decision for me to make as far as wish team I wanted to pursue in this next journey.’’

The Giants need to add a safety, considering they have none of them on the roster with any NFL starts. Most of the top-rated safeties already have signed elsewhere, with Rahim Moore on Thursday getting a three-year, $12 million deal with the Texans. The Giants have interest in Ron Parker, a Chiefs starter last season, but Parker is visiting with the Bears. Also on the market: Darian Stewart, who started 14 games last season for the Ravens.

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Once over shock of trade, Jimmy Graham likes being a Seahawk

Jimmy Graham definitely didn’t expect to be traded.

But as the shock of the deal that sent him from New Orleans to Seattle wears off, he’s kind of digging the idea of playing for a team that’s been in the last two Super Bowls, winning one.

Via our own Curtis Crabtree (also of KJR in Seattle), Graham said Saints coach Sean Payton first told him he was traded, but didn’t say where.

“When he told me Seattle, it definitely put a grin on my face,” Graham said. “I’ve had some battles clearly against their defense the last couple of years. We’ve struggled against them as a team as a whole. It’s probably the one game as a player you always look forward to because they’re always so good and it’s usually a prime-time game.

“So for me it was a moment of shock, but once that shock cleared, I realized that I was going to the best team in football.”

Of course, he’s also going to a team against which he had some notable run-ins, with Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett in particular.

“I’m excited, you know?” Graham said of the incident. “Whenever we’re all getting ready for a playoff game, you know how serious those games are and you try to motivate your guys. There’s a lot of emotion that goes into those games, and when I play, it’s all about winning and it’s all about doing whatever it takes to fire guys up and to get that emotion running. For me, that’s just a part of the game. We play a contact sport and it’s aggressive, and you have to be aggressive in everything you do.

“So for me, I’m excited to sit down with the guys—some of the guys have reached out to me, called me on the phone—but I’m excited to really get to know these guys and become one of their brothers and work towards winning a championship.”

They’re in a better position now with Graham lining up at tight end for them rather than against them, so the getting along may be easier than some would think.

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Were Andre Johnson, new Texans regime doomed?

Despite all the positive language when Andre Johnson returned from his holdout with the Houston Texans last year, he made one thing clear Wednesday during a conference call with reporters from Indianapolis.

Things weren't right, even after his return.

"I knew it a while ago," said Johnson, who joined the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, when asked when he knew he probably wouldn't be back with the Texans after last season. "I knew it before the season even started."

It's an interesting statement given the public comments that followed his return last season. It makes you wonder if Johnson ever trusted the Texans last season and gave the new regime a chance. It makes you wonder if he and the new Texans staff were ever on the same page. If they weren't, how could they have succeeded together?

When Johnson reported for training camp in July, he was asked if he saw himself finishing his career in Houston and said, "That's my plan."

He spoke of an "upbeat" atmosphere within the Texans organization, one that was more upbeat "probably than it has ever been."

He said all of his conversations with Texans coach Bill O'Brien were positive.

The public show of frustration with the organization began in 2013. After arguing with then-quarterback Matt Schaub and walking off the field before a game was over, Johnson was asked if he still wanted to be here. He replied, "I'm under contract, so I can't do anything about that."

During the spring, at an event in which he donated to the Houston Area Women's Center, Johnson revealed why he hadn't been at offseason workouts and didn't plan to attend the Texans' mandatory minicamp. He said he wasn't sure he wanted to remain with the Texans but that he didn't ask for a trade.

After some time apart during the summer of 2014, he returned to the facility and had a conversation with owner Bob McNair that seemed to smooth things over. Actually, it might not have really done that.

For most of the 2014 season, Johnson didn't seem disgruntled, but this interaction just before the bye week showed frustration with the team's direction.

"I'm trying to help the team win," Johnson said at the time. "But I only can do what I can do. I can't control everything. I only can control what I can. That's it. I can't block. I can't cover guys. I can't throw the ball. All I can do is run routes and try to get open and catch the ball."

He said he wasn't sure there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and when asked if he was getting open, he noted that we watch the games. Asked if he would speak to O'Brien about his role, he said he didn't think there was much to talk about. That followed a game in which Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Cary Williams told Sports Radio 610 he wasn't the same player.

Then there was this from Wednesday's conference call. Johnson was asked if that feeling he might be gone lingered during the 2014 season.

"It bothered me a little bit because you have people tell you that they want you to be a Texan for life, they want you to retire as a Texan, and then at the end the year they let you go," Johnson said. "Like I said, I knew. I just had a feeling it was going to happen."

You have to wonder how much that colored his 2014 season.

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Orlando Franklin ready to bring added intensity to Chargers O-Line

Philip Rivers was sacked 36 times last season - tied for the 10th-most among all quarterbacks who took a snap in 2014. Ranked sixth all time in overall QB rating, Rivers has proven time and time again that when upright, he's capable of hurling it with the best of them.

The formula was simple: Keep Rivers on his feet, and your chances of winning football games increases.

It was for this reason that third-year Chargers GM Tom Telesco picked up the phone just minutes after teams were allowed to contact unrestricted free agents and dialed for one of the best available players to help carry out that simple formula.

"Offensive line has been an area that we wanted to improve on and Orlando Franklin was our main target through the whole thing," Telesco said Wednesday. "We like how he plays, both run and pass game. He's been very durable, very productive."

And just like that Rivers and head coach Mike McCoy had one more reason to smile.

Standing at a towering 6 feet 7 inches, Franklin comes to San Diego on a five-year $35.5 million contract after having spent the first four years of his professional career with the Denver Broncos as both a right tackle and left guard.

Though he admits he would have preferred to stay in Denver, Franklin says the move to San Diego is something he looks forward to.

"When you think about the Chargers, you think about how good their offense has been for the past few years," he said to the media Wednesday. "They're an offense that gets it done. You've got guys like D.J. Fluker, Philip Rivers, King Dunlap - you've got guys that give you a chance to win. You've got these receivers that are doing amazing things."

Just as Jacoby Jones said at his introductory press conference last week, Franklin joins San Diego's offense with his prospects set on working alongside one of the more outspoken leaders this league has to offer.

"He gets after it, I mean he throws that ball up and down the field," Franklin said of his new quarterback. "I know he's a perfectionist and I know he demands a lot from his teammates and he demands a lot from himself.

"I'm excited to go in the huddle and be a part of that and I know he's a guy that commands the huddle who takes care of business."

Splitting time between right tackle and left guard, Franklin said his position in San Diego doesn't matter. So long as he's one of the five guys out there on Sundays, he knows the skills he brings can help this team win.

"I take pride in what I do," Franklin said. "I'm a person (who doesn't think) it's enough for us to get a big gain or score a touchdown. I want to be the first offensive lineman in the end zone, the first offensive lineman congratulating the receiver or the running back each and every time.

"I bring a lot of intensity, a lot of effort. I play with a high motor. I'm going to give you 110 percent each and every play.

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Don’t Count Out a Vince Wilfork Return Just Yet

When Vince Wilfork shared a heartfelt note thanking the Patriots and their fans for 11 great years on Twitter last Tuesday, it felt like a goodbye. The Patriots had declined to pick up his 2015 contract option, but the 33-year-old nose tackle asserted that he had plenty left in the tank. At the time, the team had more pressing players to focus on, namely Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis.

With the NFL’s free agency period underway, multiple reports suggest Wilfork could still end up in New England next season, albeit at a reduced salary. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport named the Patriots and the Texans as two of the four teams the 5-time Pro Bowl selection is considering.

Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported that Wilfork was taking his time to make a decision about his future, but that a return to Foxborough remained possible.

In addition to the Patriots and Texans emerging as possible destinations, the Indianapolis Colts are reportedly interested in Wilfork. In 2014 regular and postseason defeats to the Patriots, the Colts’ run defense surrendered a combined 423 rushing yards. It would make sense that a team with such a porous defense would want a XXX-pound All-Pro on the field.

While a reunion with Wilfork seems possible, the Patriots might still see him as a backup plan of sorts. The Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels reported that the Patriots were interested in Nick Fairley, the “other” free agent defensive tackle from the Lions. The market for the 27-year-old Fairley and his raw talent (the 13th overall pick in the 2011 draft, he ran a 4.84 40 yard dash at 291 pounds). The Bengals had Fairley in for a visit on Wednesday, and the Rams are also reportedly in the mix at the moment.

Aside from Fairley, the Patriots are also reportedly “in” on ex-Browns nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin. Denver’s Terrance Knighton is also on the market, and figures to be the most lucrative defensive tackle not named Ndamukong Suh in this free agent class.

So with Darrelle Revis gone and over $9 million in cap room to play with, the Patriots are financially flexible and can look for value elsewhere. And their biggest free agent signing may still turn out to be a returning Vince Wilfork.

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Fever Acquire Shenise Johnson From Stars

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Fever has acquired combo guard Shenise Johnson and a 2015 second-round draft pick from the San Antonio Stars, in exchange for the Fever's 2015 first- and third-round draft picks, as announced by Fever President and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf.

Johnson is a versatile 5-11 guard who has completed three WNBA seasons with San Antonio. Last season, she averaged 6.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, over 30 games of action with one start. In 33 games, she was a 24-game starter in 2013, posting career-best averages of 11.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists. She averages a steal per game over 97 career appearances and, in 2012, she led all WNBA rookies with a 41-percent 3-point shooting mark.

Currently starring in Turkey where she averages 16.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, Johnson was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft.

The 2011 ACC Player of the Year, Johnson was a two-time All-American at the University of Miami, and a three-time All-ACC selection. She also was a three-time member of the league's all-defense team and started 131 consecutive games in her Miami career, the longest such streak in the country. She owned a streak of 87 straight games of double-figure scoring with the Hurricanes, and posted career averages of 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.4 steals.

"Shenise is a big guard who can play multiple positions," said Krauskopf. "She has been on our radar since she was drafted out of Miami three years ago. She has a complete arsenal of offensive skills and also fits our defensive identity. Her best years are still ahead of her. We are excited to add her to our backcourt."

"We are thrilled to add Shenise Johnson to our team," said first-year Fever Head Coach Stephanie White. "She is a skilled guard who has tremendous versatility on both ends of the floor as well as an extremely high basketball IQ. Her addition brings quality depth and experience to our perimeter rotation."

In the trade, Indiana receives the 21st overall pick (second round) from San Antonio, while surrendering the 6th (first round) and 30th (third round) selections.

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Andre Johnson Comments on Signing with Colts: Top Takeaways and Reaction

Andre Johnson's move to the cross-division rival Indianapolis Colts was all about removing the one remaining hurdle in his Hall of Fame career: winning a Super Bowl. The seven-time Pro Bowler said as much Wednesday as he was announced as the latest high-profile veteran signing in Indianapolis.   

Johnson signed a three-year, $21 million contract, per ESPN's Josina Anderson, and joins fellow Miami product Frank Gore as the Colts' second offensive addition of the offseason. Johnson, who flew with Gore to Indianapolis on Tuesday, said the two viewed Indianapolis as a burgeoning title contender, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com:

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Cortland Finnegan takes parting shot at Andre Johnson

Andre Johnson had plenty of highlight-reel moments during his 12 seasons with the Texans, but the most memorable for some fans may be the beatdown he laid on Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan on Nov. 28, 2010 at then-Reliant Stadium.

Finnegan, known as one of the NFL’s top agitators during his career, was cut by the Dolphins last week and posted on his Instagram account that he is retiring. Of course, he did it with a not-so-subtle shot at Johnson, whose run with the Texans officially ended Monday.

“Spent 9 years doing something I Loved and it has payed off in so many ways.. To say I have been blessed is an understatement I am forever thankful.. I have made my share of mistakes and had moments of glory. I even got into a fight in an NFL Game ( he hits like a bish). I’m thankful for the friends I made on and off the field love yAll.. Time to move on and enjoy new people new places and new ideas.. I forgot to thank all the haters I love yAll to”

In the end, it’s just Finnegan being Finnegan.

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Leonard Hankerson announces he’s a Falcon

Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson’s visit to Atlanta has resulted in a deal with the Falcons.

Hankerson announced it was a “done deal” on Twitter Wednesday. The move draws an end to his tenure with the Redskins after four seasons.

We haven’t seen much of Hankerson on the field recently. He tore his ACL after playing 10 games in 2013 and remained on the PUP list well into the 2014 season as he waited for the knee to feel ready for a full return. He wound up playing in one game and didn’t have a catch.

The move to the Falcons reunites Hankerson with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who ran Washington’s offense while Hankerson was catching 81 passes for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns in his first three seasons. With Harry Douglas gone, Hankerson will compete for a role behind Julio Jones and Roddy White in Shanahan’s offense this season.

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Antrel Rolle agrees to three-year deal with Chicago

The Bears needed a proven presence at safety.

They got him.

Chicago has reached a three-year, $11.25 million deal with Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle, agent Drew Rosenhaus told PFT’s Mike Florio on Wednesday night. The deal contains $5 million in guaranteed money.

Rolle, 32, started every game in the last five seasons for New York. He notched 87 tackles and intercepted three passes in 2014.

PFT’s 54th-ranked free agent, Rolle could team again with former Giants teammate Ryan Mundy at safety for Chicago, which has had significant instability on defense the last two seasons.

Not surprisingly, new head coach John Fox and G.M. Ryan Pace moved early in free agency to add two defensive starters. First, the Bears reached a deal with Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.

Now, they’ve added Rolle, who strengthens a position group that has been a problem spot for Chicago for some time.

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This video of a little girl reacting to the Jimmy Graham trade will bring you to tears

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Drew Brees tweets photo of son wearing Jimmy Graham jersey

Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he was “shocked” to learn that All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle. Based on this tweet from Brees, his young son is going to miss Graham being in New Orleans, too.

Ever since he was drafted by the Saints in 2010, Graham has been a favorite target for Brees in the Saints’ high-powered offense. Graham averaged close to 90 receptions per season over the last four years and has 59 career touchdown catches, so his presence will be sorely missed on offense.

Graham, who changed his Twitter bio to read simply “Traded,” thanked his fans and teammates in a tweet Wednesday morning.

In exchange for Graham, New Orleans received the No. 31 overall pick from Seattle, along with Pro Bowl center Max Unger.

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Olivier Vernon with opportunity to have huge year

In his second season, 2013, Olivier Vernon had produced all of .5 sacks through three games. Didn’t matter. Anyone tempted to wonder if this defensive end from The U was going to pan out had his answer over the next month: Vernon recorded a sack the next week, then another, and before you knew it, he had gone four straight games with a sack.

Vernon finished the season with 11.5, including three in a rout of the Jets. Everyone knew the Dolphins had spent their third-round pick in 2012 wisely.
Fast-forward to today, when Vernon is staring at an opportunity unlike any he has seen to date.

With Ndamukong Suh playing alongside Vernon next season, and Cameron Wake playing alongside him (along with, say, DT Earl Mitchell), there aren’t enough men on a football field to allow offenses the luxury of doubling Vernon, too.

Vernon went from 57 tackles in 2013 to 46 last season. Instead of quarterbacks dropping, it was his sack total that fell, to 6.5.

More alarming: Vernon managed just one sack over the final six weeks last season. If that rings a bell, it’s no coincidence those six weeks are when the defense imploded. Vernon totaled just four tackles the final four games.

That is not meant to pin the defensive problems just on Vernon. He had tons of help as that unit gave up 32 points per game those six weeks.
What’s it all mean?

Vernon, still only 24, is the first to say his career with the Hurricanes wasn’t all it should have been. It’s why he wasn’t drafted until the 72nd pick.

His hot streaks in the NFL, especially during that second season with the Dolphins, prove he has the ability. It’s why he starts opposite Wake.

But with two Pro Bowl linemen alongside Vernon, including the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, opportunity awaits. A unique opportunity at that.

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Andre Johnson: Frank Gore and I agree, we can win a Super Bowl

New Colts receiver Andre Johnson says he and fellow new Colt Frank Gore agreed to sign with Indianapolis together because they want to win a Super Bowl together.

Johnson said that as soon as the Texans cut him, Gore (a University of Miami teammate) was on the phone, trying to convince him that they should sign with the same team and try to get a ring.

“After I got released by the Texans, Frank called me,” Johnson said. “He called me right after it happened and was just like, ‘What are you gonna do?’ I’m like, ‘Frank, I don’t know. I just got released. I don’t know.’ I asked, him ‘Who do you think has the best chance to win a Super Bowl?’ And he was like, ‘Indy.’ And I was like, ‘That’s my same choice too so let’s do it, let’s go for it.’ And they were able to get both of us here.”

Johnson said he’s looking forward to playing with Andrew Luck (by far the best quarterback he’s ever played with) and thinks the Colts have what it takes to win the Super Bowl in 11 months.

“Me and Frank are here to try to help this organization get over the hump and get a ring,” Johnson said.

That would be quite a way to wrap up a great career.

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Vince Wilfork might still return to the Patriots

Vince Wilfork has been one of the cornerstones of the Bill Belichick Patriots for a decade. The team released him earlier in the offseason, bringing an end to the tenure of one of the better players to ever wear the team’s uniform.

But by some reports, Wilfork might be back in that same uniform again next year.

Wilfork, 33, has been manning the middle of the Patriots’ defensive line since being drafted in 2004. Listed at 6’2″ and 325 pounds (ha!), Wilfork was in some ways the unsung hero of those always-good Patriots defenses under Belichick. He may not command the attention of a Darrelle Revis or a Rodney Harrison, but what he did was just as valuable.

Wilfork was an invaluable member of the NFL’s preeminent franchise; his release last week was heartbreaking for Patriots fans, and most likely for the team as well. But this is Bill Belichick’s team; past performance and nostalgia mean nothing for Belichick, only results. Randy Moss and Dion Branch were traded at midseason; Wes Welker was lowballed on his way out the door; Lawyer Milloy was cut just before the season. This is not a team that values loyalty when it stands in the way of a better roster.

Wilfork understands that the NFL is a business (at least, he probably does), and if he doesn’t harbor any resentment toward the Patriots for declining his option in a cost-saving move, he could make a return to the only franchise he’s ever known. If, of course, the price is right.

He may not go back to the Patriots at all; maybe he’ll end up joining the Texans or one of the other two unnamed teams in Rapoport’s report (say that five times fast. Or don’t; do whatever you want with your time).

It’s hard to imagine Wilfork with another team, mostly because he’s never played for one. If all goes the Patriots’ way, though, we may not have to.

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Orlando Franklin Signs With Chargers Because of His Better Half

Orlando Franklin met with the San Diego media on Wednesday and talked about why he decided to join the Chargers, even though another team offered more money.

One was head coach Mike McCoy, Franklin's offensive coordinator for two years in Denver.

Another was the positive direction he sees the Chargers pointed in and a chance to work with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Yet another was the chance to play with Brandon Flowers, who went to the same high school as Franklin (Atlantic Community HS in Delray Beach, FL) and was lobbying for Orlando to join the Bolts.

But the most important sales pitch came from someone with no NFL experience. Watch the video to see who Chargers fans really have to thank for landing one of the biggest (literally and figuratively) fish in this year's free agent pool.

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Frank Gore Thanks 49ers Organization and Fans

Frank Gore will play for the Indianapolis Colts for the next three seasons, but before he starts his new journey, the departing running back went to Instagram to share a thoughtful message.

Gore shared his thanks for being a part of the San Francisco 49ers organization. He also thanked his fans.

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Landon Collins Honors Sean Taylor By Wearing No. 26

Today was Alabama’s Pro Day, a second chance for players to showcase their skills in a more familiar environment in front of scouts and NFL personnel.

Because of Alabama’s reputation and large crop of draft-ready prospects, Sportscenter was on-site there today interviewing players about their workouts and goals with just more than a month before teams make their picks.

Safety Landon Collins, who many project will be a first-round pick, naturally made it to the desk after pumping some bench presses.

He was asked why he wore No. 26 for the Crimson Tide.

“Sean Taylor, favorite player of all time," he said.

SeanTaylor copy
If you’ve followed Collins (or even Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor for that matter) throughout this last season, you know Taylor, who wore No. 26 playing collegiatly in Miami, has long been his inspiration.

A native of New Orleans, Collins has said he was a Peyton Manning fan growing up but explained his closer affinity for the Redskins as a kid.

“My favorite team was the Redskins because I grew up a Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor fan,” Collins told Alabama.com several months ago. “So it’s always been the Redskins.”

In his only full season as a starter, Collins led the team in tackles (87) and was a unanimous All-American.

He was named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award (the nation’s best defensive player) and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (the nation’s best defensive back).

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Kayne Farquharson giving back to community

Just over a week ago, the Nebraska Danger traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a Sunday afternoon game against the Green Bay Blizzard.

The Danger won that game 57-32, then jumped on the bus and headed home. About 13 hours later, they arrived in Grand Island bright and early Monday morning.
No doubt many of the players went on, kicked back, and relaxed for a few hours before they had to go in for team meetings.

Not receiver Kayne Farquharson.

As soon as he got to his apartment, he called Danger general manager Mike McCoy and asked him if he was going to pick him up for a speaking engagement at Dodge Elementary.

McCoy told him he was already there with two other players who hadn’t made the trip to Green Bay and that he should relax and not worry about it.

Not Farquharson. He jumped in his car and drove to Dodge.

“He walked in there and gave an incredible speech in front of like 520 students,” McCoy said. “That just tells you what he’s all about and his commitment to the city of Grand Island and to this community.

“He’s here to play football and get better obviously, but he’s also here to do the community things that we need to do. He’s by far our team spokesperson. I really think he could run for political office here and potentially win maybe some day. He’s just a great, great young man who really gets it.”

As far as Farquharson is concerned, it was no big deal. He had a message to deliver and he was going to get it done.

“I wanted to tell the kids that decision making is very important and they have to be accountable,” Farquharson said. “Even though I just came from a 14-hour bus ride, I had promised the kids and I wanted to be a man of my word.

“Doing things for the kids puts them at a good place. When I was younger and professional athletes came, it was always a pleasure to hear what they had to say.”
Farquharson remembers what that was like as a youngster to meet those professional athletes. That’s why he makes it a point to get to every meet-and-greet and speaking engagement he can.

McCoy said the team had 109 such events last year, and estimated that Farquharson was at 90 percent of them.

Just doing his job, Farquharson said.

“It’s part of my job description,” Farquharson said. “It’s pretty much a blessing. I know we’re not in the NFL, but in those kid’s eyes, you would have thought I was Adrian Peterson.

“Just the look in their eye and they whisper, ‘He’s a Danger player.’ It’s a good feeling.”

This is Farquharson’s fourth season with the Danger. He’s been an all-IFL player three times — a second-teamer in 2012 (74 catches, 915 yards, 26 TDs) and 2014 (54 catches, 690 yards, 12 TDs), a first-teamer in 2013 (73 catches, 1,081 yards, 21 TDs) and a second-teamer again last year (54 catches, 690 yards, 12 TDs).

McCoy still remembers when Farquharson joined the Danger before the 2012 season.

“He stood up and he just took over the room right then,” McCoy said. “I mean, ‘Hi. I’m Kayne Farquharson from Miami. I’m here to win football games. We’re going to do this thing the right way and I’m going to work hard and we’re all here for the right reasons.’

“This is what pro football is all about at it’s purest form. These guys make $225 a game plus room and board. They’re not making millions of dollars.”

For Farquharson, the money he makes isn’t the most important thing. What matters the most is playing his best and giving back to the community.

“He gets it. He really, really gets it and he understands the importance of doing the right thing in the community,” McCoy said. “Even when he and I are like walking through Walmart, kids will come up and mob him and he will talk to each young person about coming to the game on Saturday and how much fun they’ll have. He’s on all the time, 24-7, not just when we go to school.”

It’s a bit surprising to see a Miami native like Farquharson adopt a smaller city in the middle of Nebraska as a second home town, but that’s exactly what he’s done.
So why does he keep coming back?

“The community, the coaching staff, my fellow teammates,” Farquharson said. “It’s a great city. Coming from Miami, there are so many lanes at times. Grand Island is a slower city for me. I save more money. I learn a lot from the Bosselmans and the people that are surrounding me. It’s a good pace for me. It’s kind of a second home now.”

Farquharson has nothing to prove to the IFL. He’s already shown what he can do on the football field.

But his work here is not yet done. The Danger is 2-0 this season after a 45-30 victory over Wichita Falls Saturday night. Now the Danger heads to Texas to face that same Wichita Falls team this weekend.

Whatever happens Saturday, the long-range goal for Farquharson and the Danger will remain the same.

“There’s only one goal, and that’s pretty much to win a championship,” Farquharson said. “I hold all the records for receiving yards and touchdowns and receptions. I pretty much know most of the fans. There is only one thing I’m missing is a banner on the roof and a trophy with my name on it so I can always come back here and say I brought the first championship to Grand Island.”
And this year, it just might happen.

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Raptors really miss John Salmons on the defensive end

SAN ANTONIO  - For most, John Salmons didn’t move the needle the way Patrick Patterson or Greivis Vasquez did when they came over in that now franchise altering trade with the Sacramento Kings last December.

While Patterson and Vasquez became integral parts of the second unit, Salmons bounced around playing now and then and did the things that go unnoticed by the average fan.

He certainly didn’t fill the boxscore, but in crunch time when Dwane Casey needed stops and a calming presence on the floor, Salmons was invariably one of those he called upon.

These days the Raptors head coach doesn’t have a guy like that and while Salmons role cannot justifiably be considered large in comparison to the core rotation guys that made up that 2013-14 team, his role was big when the Raptors defensive needs were biggest.

And his absence is being felt quite a bit right now.

James Johnson and Lou Williams, the two new additions to the roster, have come in and added to the rotation but in different ways.

Williams role is almost 100% offensive and he has filled that more nights than not.

Johnson is a big, athletic body but does not have the old-man smarts or defensive discipline that made Salmons such a benefit to the Raptors last season, particularly late in games.

Johnson answered another need with a big, physical presence that can match up with the Joe Johnson’s of the world but as far as being consistently in the right place and on point with the defensive schemes, Johnson is not in Salmons’ class.

At the age of 34 last season, Salmons had been through the wars and for him playing team concept defence was second nature. Johnson may one day get there but it’s not a level you attain without years of experience.

Before they traded him to Atlanta for Williams and Lucas Nogueria, the Raptors were in reported discussions with Memphis to send Salmons and the cap relief he would provide a team acquiring him there in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and a first-rounder.

Prince would have provided the same type of defensive steadying influence that Salmons had last season, but that deal never came to fruition.

Williams, without question, has been a boon to the offensive side of things and is among the most likely to battle it out for sixth man of the year, but right now with 18 games remaining, it’s the teams’ defensive woes that are most concerning.

The team has a defensive rating of 107.5. That’s 107.5 points allowed per 100 possessions and it matches the worst defensive rating in the four years Casey has been the Raptors head coach.

The team was actually statistically better in it’s first year and certainly better last season when it had a defensive rating of 105.3.

Salmons’ absence isn’t the only reason for this obviously. Jonas Valanciunas is still learning and as the middle of that defensive unit his on-the-job training is just something the team has to live with. Amir Johnson seems to intermittently be showing signs of all the wear and tear on his body, although he did have a stellar second half in Tuesday’s loss in San Antonio, looking every bit the energetic Johnson of a couple of years ago.

But the lack of a veteran wise in the ways of defence to go along with a guy like Johnson, who has had his own consistency issues this year, is a bit of a hole on this roster.

Offensively this team is going to score. If it’s not Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan carrying the load in the starting five there’s always Williams and Greivis Vasquez in the second unit to pick up the scoring not to mention Patterson.

But defensively this team is lacking.

Casey had been preaching a need for more desire on that end, but more recently his pleas seem to be centred more on a desire for some defensive intellect on his team.

At this stage the only answers have to come from within that 15-man roster.

And a Salmons-like presence among that 15 does not exist.

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Ryan Braun walks, scores as Brewers beat Giants

Ryan Braun went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in Wednesday's 6-3 victory versus the Brewers.

He walked and scored in the Brewers' three-run third inning. Braun again went without a hit, running him up to 0-for-7 in four spring contests. If Braun is still struggling towards the end of March, some concern may be warranted, but seven at-bats is a pittance of a sample size.

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Yasmani Grandal hopes his bat erases a blot on his career

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Yasmani Grandal knows he has to live with the stigma attached to having served a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs.

“The way I see it, we make mistakes and we learn from them,” Grandal said before the start of spring training. “It’s just like the game of baseball – you make a mistake in one at-bat, you come back and learn from it.”

But the Dodgers catcher is not willing to tolerate any suggestions that the sharp dropoff in his offensive production since the suspension is an indication he cannot be the same hitter without the extra advantage he was caught seeking.

“If you look at my numbers coming up, there’s a reason why I have the second-highest average in the history of the University of Miami,” Grandal said. “There’s a reason I hit .300 with 15-plus (home runs) and 80 (RBI) my first year in the minors. There’s a reason for that.

“I don’t want to say I’m defensive. But people should do their homework.”

That homework shows Grandal hit .297 with an .863 OPS and eight home runs in just 60 games as a rookie with the San Diego Padres in 2012. Suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season after he tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone, Grandal has hit .224 with a .721 OPS and 16 home runs total in parts of two seasons since.

But the homework assignment Grandal has in mind goes deeper than that. He played just 28 games after returning from his suspension before suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during a play at home plate against the Washington Nationals in July of 2013. Grandal underwent reconstructive surgery on his right knee and vowed to “be Adrian Peterson.” The prognosis was for a nine- to 12-month rehab process, but Grandal pushed it and opened the 2014 season on the Padres’ active roster.

In retrospect, that might not have been the best thing to do. Grandal’s right knee was not back to full strength and the switch-hitter’s production at the plate – particularly from the right side – suffered. He finished last season with a .225 average, having struck out once every three at-bats.

“I’m a firm believer that if you don’t have your lower half, you can’t hit,” said Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire, a man familiar with how PED use can stigmatize and color the perception of a player. “I would tend to go towards the legs side (to explain his offensive dropoff) than the other side.”

Grandal’s numbers improved in the second half and he finished strong, batting .291 with four home runs and 14 RBI in September. He carried that into winter ball, heading to the Dominican Republic for a time to satisfy himself – if no one else – that “I was right.” He hit .328 in 19 games with two home runs, including one while batting right-handed that Grandal boasts was one of the longest home runs he has ever hit right-handed.

“To tell you the truth, we didn’t even talk about last year. We talked about what he did in the winter,” McGwire said. “He went down and played winter ball to prove to himself that he was healthy and that he had that good feeling from the right side. And then he called it quits and came home. That’s really cool that he did that. A lot of guys wouldn’t have done that.”

Grandal went to the Dominican a Padre and came back a Dodger, having been acquired in the trade that sent Matt Kemp south. His knee now is “110 percent,” Grandal said, and the Dodgers clearly think they acquired an undervalued asset about to become a very valued one – a catcher who can be a vital part of what they hope is a deep lineup. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman called Grandal’s offensive numbers last season “an outlier” because he came back so quickly from knee surgery and “didn’t have his legs under him” until the second half of the season.

“He’s got pop from both sides. He’s a dangerous cat,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “You can tell the way he swings, he’s on pitches. At the end of the year last year, we had trouble getting him out. We didn’t really know where to go. We kept trying different things. He always seemed to square it up somewhere.”

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Colin McCarthy visiting Patriots

Former Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy is visiting the Patriots Tuesday, per ESPN.

McCarthy, 26, missed all of the 2014 season after undergoing shoulder surgery and being placed on injured reserve. He was drafted by the Titans in 2011. His career stats include 161 total tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

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Drew Brees on Jimmy Graham trade: “I’m as shocked as everyone”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees wasn’t expecting to lose one of his favorite teammates today.

Reached shortly after the Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, Brees told Alex Flanagan that he couldn’t believe it.

“I’m as shocked as everyone else. I love the guy,” Brees said.

Brees is right, everyone was shocked by the news that Graham is gone. But the reality is, no one was untouchable on the Saints: They simply are in such bad cap shape that they have to start moving on from some of their most expensive players and building for the future, and trading Graham gets rid of his expensive contract while getting them a first-round draft pick. And Brees may turn out to be pleased that the Saints added center Max Unger in the trade, as center was a major need for the Saints.

So Brees is shocked, but maybe he shouldn’t be. Big moves were inevitable given the Saints’ cap situation.

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Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts agree to three-year, $12M deal

Frank Gore will be playing his first season of football since 2005 in a uniform other than one that has San Francisco 49ers colors on it. Gore has played for two teams his entire career, as the Miami Hurricanes and San Francisco 49ers were the only teams to have had the pleasure of using Gore in their lineup.

We can now add the Indianapolis Colts t that list.

According to Adam Schefter from ESPN, the Colts and Frank Gore have agreed to a deal that will pay the former 49ers running back $8.5 million in guaranteed money.

This was expected to happen as soon as Gore backed out of plans to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Gore was intrigued by the idea of playing with Andrew Luck and there’s a chance that Andre Johnson will be joining him shortly to form a Miami Hurricanes reunion.

Andrew Luck never played in Coral Gables and he hasn’t played with Johnson or Gore but their arrivals in Indy are great news for his 2015 stats. The Colts have progressively gotten closer to the Super Bowl in each of Luck’s first three years and the addition of Gore is a clear sign that a trip to Super Bowl 50 is in the plans for the Colts.

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Leonard Hankerson visiting Falcons

Free agent wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is reportedly visiting the Falcons Tuesday, according to Yahoo Sports.

Hankerson has played all four seasons in the NFL with the Redskins, but played just one game in 2014. He's totaled 81 catches for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns in his four-year career.

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Bears moving on from MLB D.J. Williams

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bears have informed free agent middle linebacker D.J. Williams of the team’s intention to move in a different direction, and that Williams will not be offered a contract to return, according to source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Several teams have expressed interest in the 32-year old linebacker in advance of Tuesday’s official opening of free agency.

Williams started 10 games and recorded 73 tackles last year for the Bears before landing on injured reserve on Dec. 11 because of a nagging neck ailment.

The 11-year veteran played just six games in 2013 before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle.

Williams spent the first nine seasons of his NFL career (2004-2012) in Denver where he solidified himself as one of the Broncos’ top defenders, registering 100-plus tackles five times while moving around to play middle, strong side and weak side linebacker.

Williams overlapped with new Bears coach John Fox for two years in Denver, and even though Williams endorsed the Fox hire in Chicago, he expressed uncertainty over his future in Chicago during an interview with ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko Show” in January.

"I had a good relationship with John Fox," Williams said. "He was a great coach. I'm late in my career and I do want to go to a place where I'm comfortable. I feel like if I do talk to John Fox he would shoot me straight and tell me what my position would be on the team. I'm feeling pretty good. I had a neck injury earlier this year. It's one of those injuries that you just needed time for it to heal. Now I'm feeling good and ready to go."

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Eric Winston returning to Cincy

Eric Winston is returning to the Cincinnati Bengals, the veteran offensive tackle tweeted Tuesday.

Also, the Bengals are not offering defensive tackle Devon Still a tender Tuesday, but they did offer him a one-year deal for an amount less than the $1.54 million low-round tender he qualified for, a source said. Still, whose daughter, Leah, has been fighting stage 4 pediatric cancer over the past several months, is mulling the offer while he takes family matters into account, the source said.

The Bengals acquired Winston, who is the NFL Players Association president, late this past season when they had a need for a starting right tackle following Andre Smith's season-ending triceps tear at Houston in Week 12.

After getting cut by Seattle at the end of preseason camp, the 31-year-old Winston had a few tryouts with teams, but nothing materialized before the Bengals called in November.

Including the playoff game, the 31-year-old appeared in five games for Cincinnati. He started three of them, including the wild-card round loss at Indianapolis. Pro Football Focus credited him with allowing six pressures but no sacks in his brief playing time.

Cincinnati was the fourth stop in Winston's nine-year career. He expressed interest earlier this offseason in returning to the Queen City, and playing again opposite his friend, left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Smith is expected to return fully from surgery before training camp.

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Is Clive Walford an ideal Graham draft replacement?

NFL.com sees Miami TE Clive Walford as an ideal fit to replace Jimmy Graham with the Saints.

Graham, a UM grad himself, was shipped to the Seattle Seahawks in a blockbuster Tuesday trade. "Walford isn't worthy of a first-round selection, but he should be there when the Saints pick 12th in the second round (44th overall)," noted College Football 24/7 writer Mike Huguenin. A few weeks ago, NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock called Walford "the most explosive tight end in this year's draft." And not for nothing: Walford was often deployed out wide by Hurricane coaches. He isn't in Graham's class as an athlete, and he isn't as long (6-foot-4, 251), but Walford could potentially provide half the value for a small fraction of the price.

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Pete Carroll doesn’t anticipate locker room issues with Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham scraped with Bruce Irvin in pregame warmups prior to the 2013 NFC playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.

Defensive end Michael Bennett blasted Graham after the game calling the then-Saints tight end “overrated” after being held to just four catches in two games against Seattle.

Graham will now be joining that locker room after being acquired in a trade with the Saints on Tuesday.

Despite the run-ins with Graham in 2013, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll doesn’t anticipate the incidents causing any problems now that Graham is joining the team.

“I don’t have any thoughts that there will be a problem,” Carroll said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “I think that’s gamesmanship and guys getting ready to play and all that and that’s all understood.”

Graham was warming up on Seattle’s side of the field prior to the Divisional Round matchup between New Orleans and Seattle in January 2014. Irvin approached Graham and told him to get back on his side of the field.

““He said, I’m Jimmy,” Irvin said at the time of Graham. “I said, who’s Jimmy?”

Irvin then swatted a football from Graham’s hands and punted it across the field as the players had to be separated.

Bennett then spoke his mind on Graham after Seattle’s 23-15 victory. Graham was held to just one catch for eight yards against the Seahawks.

“Because he’s overrated,” Bennett said. “If he doesn’t get a chance to get the ball, that’s all he can really do — he doesn’t help in the blocking game — so I think he’s overrated and I’m not scared to say that on TV.”

Carroll said the team has already spoken with Graham following the trade. Russell Wilson had already reached out about setting up dates to workout before the players are allowed to practice together at the team’s facility as well.

“I know a number of our players have already contacted him and talked to Jimmy and I’m sure that helps him if he ever had any thoughts (about that),” Carroll said.
“We’ve had good visits with him already as well. Yeah, I’m not worried about it a bit. It will be great to have him in here and get him with our guys. I’m sure they’ll get together well before we can start working here at the facility and expect that all of the groundwork for that relationship to begin will start all over again.”

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Orlando Franklin Badly Wanted to be a Bolt

General Manager Tom Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy prioritize players who love the game of football.

All it takes is one conversation with Orlando Franklin to see he’s someone that eats, sleeps and breathes the sport.   That’s why the Chargers pounced on the massive guard, agreeing to a five-year contract with the highly-coveted free agent on Tuesday. 

Not only was Franklin a priority for the Chargers, but the 27-year old badly wanted to be a Bolt as well, choosing San Diego over other teams that offered him more money.   One key reason is the presence of McCoy, who served as Franklin’s offensive coordinator his first two years in the league with the Denver Broncos.

“I’m excited to go to a team that I’m familiar as far as Mike McCoy and his scheme there,” he said.  “The Chargers have always had a great offense in place with a great quarterback and a good offensive line. I had an offer on the table from (another team) that was a little bit more than San Diego offered, but I ended up coming to San Diego because I felt more comfortable with the scheme and McCoy.  Obviously the line calls are going to change because it is a different offensive line coach, but at the same time, I am going to feel more comfortable because of McCoy, and I feel the Chargers run what I’ve done.”

Originally a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2011 (46th overall), Franklin started all 17 games at left guard in 2014, including the divisional playoff game. It was his first year at the position after starting 53 games at right tackle over his first three seasons.  While he brings versatility, he made it clear he’ll be suiting up in one spot for the Chargers.

“I’m coming in to play left guard,” he said matter-of-factly. “They told me they don’t want me to do anything more or less than what I did for Denver.  They like my style of play, and I’m going to come in and give it 110% every play that I’m out there.  I pride myself on getting down the field after the ball is thrown.  That is how I’ve played since high school.  I like to get downfield and celebrate.  Football is the ultimate sport, and it’s the only thing I know in this world basically where you can zone out for three hours and not be worried about anything else going on in the world.  So I’m definitely excited to be doing that the next five years for the Chargers.”

He’s also excited to protect Philip Rivers, enthusiastically praising the quarterback as another reason he chose San Diego.

“Philip is a guy who can manage the huddle.  He is very similar to Peyton (Manning) as far as he wants the attention of his guys and is a perfectionist.  He likes guys to be on point and take care of business.  So I’m excited to play with a guy like that, and he can sling that rock!  So I’m definitely excited that he’s going to throw that rock up and down the field.  I’m excited to protect for a guy like that, and I’m just excited about the whole organization and what you have to offer. The Chargers are a team definitely heading in the right direction.”

It’s impossible to miss the hulking Franklin, and the 6-7, 320-pounder will now form an imposing tandem on the left side of the line next to the 6-9, 330-pound King Dunlap.   The offensive line is a position group that thrives on chemistry, so it's good news for the Chargers that Franklin and Dunlap have known each other for years.

“I met King Dunlap when I was in college and he was playing for Philadelphia,” Franklin explained.  “One of my best friends was playing for the Eagles, and I would go up and visit him all the time and King was actually staying with him. So that is where I met King a few years ago, and it’s exciting to play with a guy I can actually hide behind! King is an absolutely huge human being.  He had an awesome year and I’m excited to play right beside him.”

Dunlap isn’t the only Chargers tackle Franklin praised, as he was equally effusive in his excitement to join D.J. Fluker. In fact, he believes every one of the linemen will raise his game.

“Fluker is just a dog when it comes to football!” he exclaimed.  “He’s a guy that will just go out there and get it done.  He’s a physical player, and by all means he will do whatever it takes to get his man on the ground.  I like to pride myself on being a physical player, too.  I’m just excited to be on a line with a guy like him. I’m a competitive player, so I’m going to go out and try to get more pancakes than all those guys.  But they get it done. So it’s going to be a tough task, but I look forward to taking advantage of it and taking a shot at it.”

Franklin arrives in San Diego with a strong support system already intact, and that includes recently re-signed cornerback Brandon Flowers.  The pair graduated from the same high school, and although they didn’t attend at the same time, they’ve grown close over the years.

“When I got to Del Ray, Brandon just finished,” Franklin said. “So he knew of me, and once I got to Miami we played Virginia Tech.  Then when I got to Denver he was already in Kansas City, but his whole family knew me because I went to school with his sister.  We always knew each other, so it’s always been good.  His mom and dad would be at the games after I played against him, and we’d all chop it up.”

Faced with a life-altering decision about which team to join, Franklin sought Flowers’ counsel.  The cornerback was a pending free agent himself, but he enthusiastically endorsed San Diego.  Now, both will unite to wear the lightning bolt.

“Brandon is a great guy and I actually called him to talk about the Chargers when I thought about coming here,” Franklin admitted. “I asked him point blank what it’s like, and he said, ‘Man, you come here and you are exactly what we need.  We need more dogs on that field.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’m coming!’  So I’m happy to see us both are here as Chargers.”

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Andre Johnson currently expected to sign with Colts

Andre Johnson is one of the top free agents on the free agency market now that the Houston Texans have released him. There are quite a few teams with interest in signing him this offseason, and at this point in time it appears that he will end up signing with the Indianapolis Colts.

According to Zierlein, the Colts are expected to get the package deal of Frank Gore and Johnson. Both players would fill major needs for the Colts, and they would immediately improve the Colts’ already dominant offense. There are plenty of other teams interested in both players, but Indianapolis offers them a chance to compete for a Super Bowl.

It would be a very intriguing pickup for the Colts, especially after they announced earlier this offseason that they would not be re-signing Reggie Wayne.

During the 2014 season with the Texans, Johnson ended up catching 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns. At 33 years old, he still has plenty of good football left in the tank. Houston wanted to keep him, but weren’t willing to continue giving him the type of role that he was wanting.

Assuming Johnson does end up signing with the Colts, he will immediately be plugged into the number two wide receiver role. Indianapolis currently has T.Y. Hilton as their uncontested number one target, with Donte Moncrief and Duron Carter backing him up. Johnson would fill that major void, and is exactly the type of receiver that will fit alongside of Hilton.

Andrew Luck already led the Colts as the number one passing offense in the NFL last season. This move will be an upgrade over what they were working with last season, and will make his job even easier.

Johnson and the Colts don’t have a contract worked out yet, but he is reportedly flying to Indianapolis to meet up with the Colts.

Needless to say, this would be a huge pickup for the Colts and a big step towards making a Super Bowl run. Ryan Grigson and Jim Irsay have been known to be very aggressive, and this is just another proof of that fact.

If Gore is also signed, then the Colts offense will have improved every weakness that they had from last season.

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Bears making strong push for veteran safety Antrel Rolle

Antrel Rolle heading to Chicago to visit with the Bears is a prime example of the difference between NFL head coaches who have control of their team’s personnel and those who do not.

Tom Coughlin is one of those coaches who does not have final say on who is on his roster. If he did, he surely would find a way to re-sign Rolle, who started every game for Coughlin and the Giants the past five years. The makeup of the roster falls to general manager Jerry Reese, who certainly abides by the wishes of his head coach whenever possible. Reese, though, clearly has set a price for Rolle and is willing to watch the Giants’ defensive captain sign elsewhere.

Rolle’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, Tuesday shooed away reports Rolle to the Bears was already a done deal. That doesn’t mean a contract is not forthcoming. The Bears headed into free agency seeking to upgrade at safety and Rolle would bring them ability, durability and leadership. Plus, he’s played alongside a safety already in Chicago, Ryan Mundy. The two started the first seven games together for the Giants in 2013.

Rolle, 32, wants to remain with the Giants but as free agency approached, it became clear that he was likely headed elsewhere.

In need of a replacement for Rolle — there isn’t a safety on the roster with an NFL start — the Giants remain interested in Chiefs defensive back Ron Parker, who is versatile enough that in 2014 he started 11 games at safety and four at cornerback. Rahim Moore of the Broncos is also a possibility.

Before free agency even officially started, the Giants made a significant push to come to an agreement with safety Devin McCourty, who never actually hit the open market and ended up re-signing with the Patriots.

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Texans eyeing veteran Vince Wilfork

It appears the Texans are looking to add a little depth on defensive. You know, because JJ Watt can't do everything.

Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com is reporting Houston has its eyes set on veteran tackle Vince Wilfork.

It would be somewhat of a reunion for Wilfork if he does land in Houston. His first year in the league, Wilfork played under then-Patriots defensive coordinator, current Texans' DC Romeo Crennel. Wilfork also crossed paths with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien as O'Brien's tenure with New England lasted from 2007-2011.

Wilfork played 11 years with Patriots after being drafted in the first round in 2004. Last week, New England elected to not pick up his option.
Wilfork finished 2014 with 47 tackles.

So if this deal does in fact happen, the Texans could have Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Wilfork on defense. Let the crazy expectations start in 3, 2, 1...

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Grid’s Miami Surge Sign NFL Veteran Willis McGahee

MIAMI – At least one athlete was signed at the National Pro Grid League (NPGL) Pro Day hosted by the Miami Surge, someone quite familiar with what it means to be a professional athlete.

Willis McGahee, who comes to Grid with well-established credentials as a pro athlete in the NFL, signed with the Surge on Sunday, one of eight teams in the NPGL.

Grid, in its second season and with a renewed contract with NBC Sports, is the world’s first professional spectator sport with two co-ed teams racing head-to-head in a two-hour match. It incorporates speed, skill and strategy in a test of endurance through a variety of weightlifting and body-weight elements.

The Surge hosted the fourth of six Pro Days across the country. Scouts and coaches from all eight NPGL teams attend each Pro Day looking for talent to fill out their rosters. And McGahee is now coming home to Miami.

When asked if he’s ready to be a Grid player, McGahee said: “That’s the whole game plan, yes sir.”

Once he sets his mind to playing a sport, McGahee can be dynamic.

He led the University of Miami to a national championship in the 2001-2002 season, he was a first-round NFL draft pick in 2003 and he went on to the Pro Bowl twice (2007, 2011).

A 6-0, 235-pound running back, McGahee said he has yet to retire from the NFL — he is a free agent and wants to play one or two more years.

While football is winding down for McGahee at age 33, he is but a rookie on the way up in Grid. He competed in Grid’s Los Angeles Pro Day recently before injuring his fingertips on the rope climb.

McGahee was asked if some sports fans would be surprised that a highly successful star from the well-established NFL would make the leap to the young Grid League.

“They can be shocked all they want,” said McGahee, also professing his love for the intense training required to be a good Grid athlete. “Why not get paid [to do this,] and why not do it with the Miami Surge, where I’m from?”

Surge team operator Mather Wiswall said he’s “excited” to have McGahee on his squad.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Wiswall said. “[McGahee] is extremely talented — raw talent in terms of the Grid. But he is super strong and athletic. And there’s nobody better in molding raw talent than [Surge Coach] Doug Chapman.”

McGahee spent much of Sunday trying to learn from athletes who are more experienced in Grid.

“I’m amazed at how everyone is doing toes-to-bar, butterfly pull-ups…,” McGahee said. “They have heart and desire. That [level] is where I want to get.”

Surge powerhouse player Nick Urankar, who was one of several Miami teammates at CrossFit Fortress during the Pro Day on Sunday, said he and the others are more than willing to help McGahee adjust.

How long that adjustment takes, however, is unknown.

“It’s tough (to know) without working with him and seeing him [in the gym], but he’s got a lot of power,” Urankar said. “It takes some time [to adjust]. It could be a couple of months and then we get huge results, and we move him where we need him. Or it could be shorter or longer. But for sure with him being from down here, it’s huge to help build our fan base.”

Another adjustment for McGahee will be the novelty of having female teammates — which is not something he is used to in the NFL.

McGahee, though, said teammates are teammates, no matter the gender, and he was looking forward to getting started.

One of his new teammates is Jenn Jones, who said McGahee will be a big draw for fans outside the fitness community.

“I think it will be amazing for the League and for our team to sell tickets and to hype up our fan base,” Jones said. “Plus, he’s super, super strong.

“I’m excited to have Doug [Chapman] work with him and get our athletes around him to see what he is capable of on the grid. I think most of his adjustment will be technical — how to move most efficiently for this sport. But he’s an athlete. He will pick things up quickly. We just need to give him the exposure.”

Beyond the Surge, Jones said it’s exciting that Grid is pulling athletes from a variety of platforms, including football, Olympic weightlifting and Cirque du Soleil, to name just three.

“The more outside athletes we can pull in,” Jones said, “the bigger Grid is going to get. And it gives athletes who can’t play their sport anymore this other competitive outlet.”

McGahee said his technique will need to be sharpened.

“I got it, but it’s not there fully,” he said. “I don’t expect to come in and be the go-to guy. It’s like football — you have to earn your spot.”

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Frank Gore’s glorious run ends with 49ers, signs with Colts for $8.5 million guaranteed

What Gore accomplished in his No. 21 jersey was simply unforeseen 10 years ago, when the 49ers used a third-round draft pick (65th overall) on a University of Miami running back whose knees each had overcome torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

Gore’s 11,073 rushing yards are the most ever by a 49er and 20th among the NFL’s all-time greats.

But statistics never truly defined Gore’s impact on the 49ers — or what he’ll bring to the Indianapolis Colts, who signed him Tuesday in his first-ever foray into free agency. Gore received $8.5 million guaranteed, ESPN reported.

Packed inside his 5-foot-9 frame is a passion for the sport, love of the game and PhD-level knowledge. That was never more on display than a 2007 trip to St. Louis, where he ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 2 win. Earlier that week, his mother, Liz, died from kidney disease. She was 46.

Gore, who turns 32 on May 14, has been the mainstay of the 49ers offense and soul of the team since 2006.

As Gore heads to a new team, so continues his quest for a new end to a season, one with a Super Bowl championship. “That’s why we’re here, why we do this, why we play NFL ball, why you play team sports – to be a champion,” Gore said in December. “I want to be a champion.”

The 49ers did not produce a winning record or playoff berth in his first six seasons, going 37-59. Since 2011, the 49ers have gone 35-19-1 in regular-season action, with trips to the three straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl before this season’s sour, 8-8 finish.

Gore’s departure is not unexpected, nor was Jerry Rice’s when the 49ers’ greatest receiver was shown the door in 2001, when bitter feelings also were masked by talk of a business-oriented divorce.

The 49ers repeatedly said over the past couple months they wanted Gore to return, and he verbally reciprocated that desire, at least until he got his first-ever taste of free agency.

Gore’s legacy casts an enormous shadow for his immediate successor, which figures to be Carlos Hyde, who ran for 333 yards and four touchdowns as a second-round draft pick last year out of Ohio State.

“He’s still one of those rare backs that can find the smallest hole to get through,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said last summer. “Out of all the guys I’ve played with, he’s that guy, running between the tackles. I haven’t seen anybody like him.”

For a franchise that’s produced Hall of Fame rushers in Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry (and perhaps someday Roger Craig), Gore ran for more than any of them. His name also tops the 49ers’ rushing charts for carries (2,442), touchdowns (64), 100-yard games (39) and 1,000-yard seasons (eight).

Arguably no running back in NFL history blocked as well in pass protection as consistently and for so long. That will be overlooked by many but should not be, especially when the time comes for his Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy.

Gore was instrumental in clinching his lone Super Bowl trip, rushing for a pair of second-half touchdowns in the NFC Championship win at Atlanta two years ago. He also nearly ran for a potential winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, racing 33 yards to the 7-yard line with 2:39 remaining; he never touched the ball again in the failed comeback attempt.

Once the 49ers got eliminated from playoff contention last December, Gore responded with his most prolific stretch of back-to-back games since that 2006, breakout season. He ran for 158 yards in a Dec. 20 collapse to the San Diego Chargers and then 144 yards in the season-closing win over the Arizona Cardinals.

“I know I can play. You put the tape on and you’ll see,” Gore said prior to that finale. “You can’t judge a guy on how the team plays. You’ve got to watch the tape and see what goes on out there. You go watch the tape and you’ll see I can still play football.”

Each of the past four seasons, Gore has played in every game, starting all but an Oct. 2, 2011 win at Philadelphia, where he came off the bench and rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown to help spark the 49ers’ revival under then-coach Jim Harbaugh.

Gore missed only seven games his 5 ½ seasons (because of groin and ankle injuries) until his 2010 season was halted Nov. 29 with a fractured hip.

Such durability, production and overall leadership resulted in praise and requisite awards. Coaches awarded him the Bill Walsh Award as team MVP in 2006 and 2010, and teammates last season bestowed upon him his first Len Eshmont Award, the 49ers’ most prestigious honor as it represents inspiration and courage.

Gore’s popularity stretched from teammates to fans and the media. Last season, he became the only three-time winner of the Garry Niver Award, given by beat writers to the most professional and cooperative player. Winning that honor last year was quite a feat considering how much he stewed with anger – but didn’t detrimentally vent — over the 49ers’ perilous path out of playoff contention.

“He’s a huge asset. I’m hoping he’s back here,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said before the season finale. “I feel a lot more comfortable with (No.) 21 in the backfield.”

General manager Trent Baalke acknowledged in December he told Gore he wanted an 11th season out of him. “We can both want each other’s company,” Baalke said then, “but to make that happen, there are hurdles that are going to have to be crossed.”

Gore’s take at the time:  “If they want to bring me back, they will. They’ll come to me in a respectful way. We’ll sit down, see what they want me to do. See what my role is and if I like it, I’ll sign. If I don’t, I’ll try to see what other teams think of me.”

* * *

Here is how Frank Gore ranks in the 49ers record book:
Frank Gore (2005-14)…..11,073
Joe Perry (1950-60, 63)…..7,344
Roger Craig (1983-90)…..7,064
Ken Willard (1965-73)….. 5,930
Garrison Hearst (1997-03)…..5,535

Frank Gore…..2,442
Roger Craig…..1,686
Ken Willard…..1,582
Joe Perry…..1,475
Garrison Hearst…..1,189

Frank Gore…..64
Roger Craig…..50
Joe Perry…..50
Ken Willard…..45
Steve Young…..37
J.D. Smith…..37

Frank Gore…..38
Joe Perry…..20
Garrison Hearst…..16

Jerry Rice             187
Terrell Owens    83
Frank Gore         76
Roger Craig         66
Ken Willard         61

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Just How Good Was Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis?

When the Indianapolis Colts decided to part ways with receiver Reggie Wayne last Friday, it was the end of another era in Colts’ history. Like Peyton Manning, Wayne was an image of loyalty and longevity to the franchise.

But also like Manning’s situation, the Colts had to make a football decision -- they're trying to move towards the future, and a 14-year veteran who was declining couldn’t be a part of their plans anymore.

Nevertheless, Reggie Wayne has quietly been one of the best receivers in the game over the last 14 seasons despite an injury-filled 2013 season and a 2014 campaign that saw him put up some of the worst numbers of his career. Wayne was almost always a consistent producer for the Colts, being targeted at least 100 times and catching at least 64 passes in all but three years with the team.

Wayne went on to have a career with eight different 1,000-yard seasons, and currently sits at eighth on the all-time list in receiving yards with 14,355. Wayne was never one to catch a lot of touchdowns, but still had more than nine touchdown receptions on four occasions and only finished with fewer than four in a season three times.

What do our advanced metrics say about his career in Indy?

Playing with Peyton
In the conversation of receivers, we use Target Net Expected Points and Reception Net Expected Points data. You can read more about Net Expected Points in our glossary.

Target NEP tells us how a receiver did on all the targets he received and accounts for whether the pass was dropped or even intercepted, giving us the big picture of how well a receiver performs. Reception NEP is data that just focuses on how much a receiver contributes when he catches the ball. When we look at Wayne’s metrics with Peyton Manning, there were few that were better than he was.

Reception NEP
Target NEP
Reception NEP/Target
Catch Rate

In 2001, Reggie Wayne put up paltry Reception and Target NEP numbers, but when we look at receivers who were targeted between 40 and 60 times that season, Wayne was 11th of 27 receivers in Target NEP. However, Wayne’s Reception NEP was in the bottom third of the same 27 receivers, the worst total of his career.
2002 through 2010 saw Wayne blossom into one of the top receivers in the league though, even with Marvin Harrison on the opposite side of the field. While Harrison was a top-six receiver during Wayne’s first three seasons according to our Target NEP, they both became lethal threats for Manning from 2004 to 2006, as both receivers finished in the top-11 in each season.

In fact, 2006 saw both Wayne and Harrison destroy secondaries one week at a time, finishing first and second in both Target and Reception NEP. Wayne posted a career high 89.34 Target NEP while Harrison posted the second best Target NEP of his career with 73.12 points. Wayne’s 134.46 Reception NEP in 2006 was also the highest of his career, as he and Harrison combined for over 2,600 receiving yards to help the Colts win the Super Bowl that season.

Wayne continued to be productive throughout his career, notching a career high –- and leading the league –- in receiving yards with 1,510 yards in 2007. After 2006, Wayne notched two more top-five Target NEP seasons as well as two additional seasons within the top 11, sustaining his excellent production for the Colts.
Unlucky With Luck

2011 was the year before Andrew Luck was drafted, but with Peyton Manning having neck surgery, Wayne had the displeasure of catching passes from Curtis Painter, Kerry Collins and Dan Orlovsky. 2012 saw the arrival of Luck and a better year all around for the Colts. But did Reggie Wayne perform as well as he did with Manning?

Reception NEP
Target NEP
Reception NEP/Target
Catch Rate

2011 was mostly a year for Wayne to forget as the trio or Painter, Orlovsky and Collins threw a combined -59.67 Passing NEP, which would have been the third worst Passing NEP of 2011 -- even worse than Tim Tebow. Wayne had his first down year as he entered his 11th season, though that shouldn’t have been a surprise, as our own Joe Juan pointed out recently that years 9, 10 and 11 are usually the start of a decline for a receiver.

In 2011, Wayne finished with a sub-100 Reception NEP total for the first time since 2005, and his Target NEP was his worst since his rookie year. While the quarterback situation didn’t help, Wayne didn’t help himself either, as his catch rate was the lowest of his career. Additionally, his 0.60 Reception NEP per target showed he wasn’t nearly as efficient as season's prior.

Things did start to look better in 2012 though, as Wayne received 194 targets on the season, a career high and third-highest total since 2000. However, an extremely high volume of targets wasn’t as beneficial as it could have been.

Of the 21 receivers that have been targeted at least 175 times since 2000, Wayne’s wasn’t the best -- his 13.37 Target NEP was the lowest of the 21 receivers, while his efficiency was only 0.61 Reception NEP per target, the sixth worst of this group. Wayne contributed 117.80 Reception NEP too, but it was only the 25th best in 2012.

The injury bug finally caught up to Wayne in 2013. At the time of his injury, he was experiencing a renaissance year, as his Reception NEP per target was at 0.77, just slightly above his career average and his highest mark since 2009. In fact, if we were to extrapolate his numbers for 2013, he could have finished with another top-16 season in Reception NEP, right in line with another NFL veteran, Andre Johnson.

The 2014 season was a dud though, giving the Colts reason to part ways with Wayne. His -0.99 Target NEP was the worst of his career, as Wayne posted a career low in Reception NEP per target, and was well below his career averages in the rest of our metrics and other statistical categories.

Defining Wayne’s Career
It’s not as though Wayne had two amazing years and then just flamed out. Wayne had a long, productive career with the Colts, and happens to hold a couple numberFire records, too.

Reggie Wayne accumulated 595.59 Target NEP over the course of his career. That's the most we’ve seen since collecting our data in 2000. Wayne holds a 40.42-point margin over the second-place receiver, Randy Moss. Wayne also accumulated 1,275.06 Reception NEP over his 14 seasons -- that's also a record, though his margin over Moss, again, is larger at 69.72 Reception NEP.

Reggie Wayne enjoyed productive years with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and was able to help one of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks as well. Forget about his down year in 2014 and remember Wayne for his unwavering loyalty and career numbers that may take a while to surpass.

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This Day In History: Redskins Acquire Santana Moss

No offense is complete without a go-to wide receiver. Once you have it, special things are in store.

The Washington Redskins rounded out their offense for years to come on March 10, 2005, when they acquired wide receiver Santana Moss from the New York Jets.
Just two games into his Redskins tenure, Moss interjected himself into Redskins-Cowboys rivalry by scoring two touchdowns late in a come from behind 14-13 victory.

He would go on to record a career-high 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns that year.

In 10 seasons with the Redskins, the Miami product recorded 581 receptions for 7,867 yards and 47 touchdowns.

Moss ranks third all-time in franchise history in receptions (581), fourth in yards (7867) and seventh in touchdowns (47).

While the pending free agent’s status with the team heading into the 2015 season remains unknown, his career with the Redskins is, and always will be, memorable. 

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Jemile Weeks is man of many gloves

JUPITER, Fla. – Jemile Weeks had never played third base in his life before Sunday. He’d played shortstop in high school and second base in college, and he’d played almost exclusively second base since he was drafted. His appearances at shortstop and in the outfield both in the minor leagues and majors amounted merely to cameos.

But when Red Sox prospect Sean Coyle took a ground ball off the face in batting practice on Sunday, a contusion that required three stitches, Weeks was notified just before the game that he’d be starting – and playing almost the entire game – at a brand-new position. He looked a little bit hesitant early in the game, as might be expected, but he started a double play in the seventh inning.

“The visuals have to be quicker,” he said. “There’s less movement than at shortstop. What you have to do is set your eyes early. At short, you have more momentum going to the ball, so it’s more of a set position at third. It can be different because you’re used to the movement, but once you knock that out and focus on seeing the ball, you can make it work.”

The No. 12 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Weeks saw his career stall after a rough season with the Oakland Athletics in 2012. He’s come to the plate just 54 times in the major leagues in the two seasons since, instead spending the last two seasons with the Triple-A affiliates of Oakland and Baltimore, respectively. He came over to the Red Sox in an August trade for Kelly Johnson and wound up playing a handful of games in the middle infield after Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt went on the shelf.

In Weeks, the Red Sox saw a potential reserve at second base, shortstop and center field with an advanced plate approach, as evidenced by a minor-league career that has seen him compile almost as many walks (241) as strikeouts (282). With Triple-A Norfolk last season, he drew 37 walks while striking out 30 times in more than 250 plate appearances.

Third base never was supposed to be on the table – but Weeks was never going to turn down a chance to make an impression at another position, not in an organization with a history of utilizing versatile utilitymen.

A year ago, it was Holt who emerged out of nowhere into a key contributor, playing seven different positions and spending the entire summer hitting leadoff. Two years before that, it was Pedro Ciriaco who wound up playing more than 75 games thanks to his ability to fill in almost anywhere on the field.

“They told me to be prepared for more of a superutility type of role – mostly in the middle infield,” he said. “I never heard too much about third base, but I’ve been getting my work in over there just in case. Every now and then, I stop over there.”

“He’s doing everything we’ve asked,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s running the bases aggressively and making good decisions. He’s an interesting guy because of the versatility and the overall athleticism.”

Whatever it takes to stick – or to be in line for a callup if a need arises – is what Weeks wants to do.

“This is a championship team, in my opinion,” he said, “so I’m OK with my role. I’m just here to be able to show people what I believe can be done. I feel I can help any team – and especially this team right here – in whatever role I need to play.”

Hurlers shine: Wade Miley issued two walks and allowed three hits but navigated through three scoreless innings in a 3-0 win for the Red Sox over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday at Roger Dean Stadium.

“I think I hung maybe one breaking ball a little high today,” he said. “For the most part, my changeup was where I wanted it to be. I didn’t throw any curveballs. The slider, it was pretty much there.”

Matt Barnes closed out the win with three strikeouts in two scoreless innings against the St. Louis reserves. He touched 97 on the radar gun, another outing that hinted at the impact he could have as a major-league reliever either out of the gate or later this season.

“How can you not like the stuff?” Farrell said. “It’s premium stuff that he’s shown in two outings. He got his first taste of pitching out of the bullpen last September. That’s not to say we’re looking to change his role and how we view him. We’ll take it as it comes right now.”

A Luke Montz double scored prospect Sam Travis with the go-ahead run in the win. Mookie Betts singled home Weeks with an insurance run later in the inning.

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Jon Jay getting closer to return

Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and outfielder Jon Jay are getting closer to getting back on the field, reports MLB.com.

Wainwright faced live hitters for the first time Sunday and is expected to throw another batting practice before appearing in his first game this spring. He may do that by Thursday.

"[We'll] just continue to kind of push him a little bit," manager Mike Matheny said.

Meanwhile, Jay is still recovering from offseason wrist surgery, but has been able to swing.

"If he can get things going [by next week]," Matheny said, "he's still right on track to be ready to go [for Opening Day]."

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Antrel Rolle Proposed proCane Package Deal

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Andre Johnson's brother names Packers as possible landing spot

The Packers re-signed Randall Cobb, but he may not be the only free agent wide receiver that has interest in playing in Green Bay next year. According to the brother of Andre Johnson, the former Houston Texans wideout has his eyes on the frozen tundra as well as other locations.

Johnson, of course, is an All-Pro and likely Hall of Famer who would improve the receiving corps of any team he joins. He became available the Texans released him following a failed attempt to locate a trade partner. While no longer the otherworldly talent he was in his younger days, Johnson still commands extra defensive attention. Playing with Houston's rotation of lackluster quarterbacks, he still produced a near 1,000-yard season in 2014.

While the Packers don't lack for pass catchers with Cobb back in the mix, Johnson could give the team its best collection of weapons since the 2011 group that featured Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver, Cobb and Jermichael Finley.

But while Johnson apparently told his brother that Green Bay interests him, would he actually want to make the sacrifices to play there? More so than the money, the chief catalyst for Johnson asking for his release from Houston was the team's request that he take on a reduced role in the offense. With the Packers, Johnson would be no better than a third option in the passing game, and he might not even be that. The team likes what it has in Davante Adams, a well-built wideout who expects to take a big step in 2015. Even if Adams isn't a better player currently, he could surpass Johnson sometime this season.

Not convinced? Consider DeAndre Hopkins, the second-year receiver who became the No. 1 option in the Texans' passing game last season. Like Adams, Hopkins stands 6'1", 215 pounds and possesses strong hands and great leaping ability. Both players are quicker than fast, but have a knack for creating separation. Given that Hopkins overtook Johnson in Houston's pecking order, it wouldn't be a shock to see Adams do the same in Green Bay.

For now, Johnson is nothing more than a hypothetical. After all, general manager Ted Thompson rarely makes splashes into free agency, and when he does it usually comes on defense.

At the same time, Thompson has shown willingness to break away from his approach for the right player. Because his Texans released Johnson, signing him wouldn't affect the Packers' comp pick calculation, a factor the team would consider. It would also give Johnson the chance to play with reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, a stark departure from the rotation of forgettable signal callers Houston has trotted out.

Still, it's hard to see a union happening. Johnson is going to have plenty of options, perhaps including either of the two teams that played in the Super Bowl last month. While the Packers can offer the chance to contend for a title, there's probably a better fit for Johnson elsewhere.

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Frank Gore reportedly reconsidering decision to sign with Eagles

Niners running back Frank Gore has never been a pending free agent … and his inexperience appears to be showing.

After Gore decided to sign with the Eagles when free agency begins Tuesday, he’s since had a change of heart and is strongly considering signing with the Colts, according to multiple reports. Gore, 31, evidently isn’t mulling a return to the 49ers, with whom he’s spent his entire 10-year career.

Gore could be enticed by the prospect of playing with his first Pro Bowl quarterback - Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck - and reuniting with associate head coach Rob Chudzinski, his offensive coordinator for his first three seasons at the University of Miami. Last year, the Colts finished 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship Game, while Eagles went 10-6 and missed the playoffs.

In addition, the running-back needy Colts are likely offering a competitive contract. Gore reportedly received an offer from the Eagles that included $7.5 million guaranteed in the first two seasons.

Last year, the Colts ranked first in the NFL in passing yards, but finished 22nd in rushing and yards per attempt.

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Giants renegotiate with LB Jon Beason

Linebacker Jon Beason has renegotiated his contract with the Giants, according to NJ.com.

Beason was scheduled to receive a $1 million roster bonus on Tuesday. Due to the renegotiation of his contract, his base salary has been reduced from $5.825 million to $3.7 million.

The 30-year-old linebacker has played four games or less in three of the past four years due to injuries.

His 2014 season was ended due to foot and toe injuries after only four games.

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Orlando Franklin changes Chargers OL

Plunging a reported $20 million guaranteed into guard-tackle Orlando Franklin, a physical, durable blocker with some stiffness to his movements, the Chargers strengthened themselves at guard, while also gaining an option at right tackle.

The Chargers know a lot about Franklin, 27. As a Broncos starter he went against them in nine games, at left guard and right tackle, and played two seasons under Mike McCoy after arriving a second-round draftee from Miami.

The Broncos may or may not have bid to retain Franklin in recent weeks. Though he missed only one start in Denver's run to four AFC West titles, new coach Gary Kubiak likes stretch run plays, and Franklin, 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds and not suited to scampering, profiles better in a more straight-forward scheme. His performance last season at left guard, where he'd last played in 2009, drew a scathing review from ex-Broncos guard Mark Schlereth.

It'll be interesting to see where he lines up, guard or right tackle, the latter of which would move D.J. Fluker inside and counter left tackle King Dunlap's stated belief that tackle best suits Fluker.

Fluker, for his part, said in December he'll play wherever he's told to play but also said tackle fits him.

Franklin held Denver's right tackle job for three years, middle of which, no doubt with assists from quarterback Peyton Manning, he led all NFL right tackles in fewest sacks allowed.

But after he struggled against Seahawks edge rushers in the Super Bowl 14 months ago and linemate Zane Beadle signed with the Jaguars, the Broncos moved him to left guard, where he remained for Denver's 17 games last year.

The move backfired badly in Schlereth's estimation.

"The Denver left guard position -- footwork, hand placement, leverage pad-level -- is beyond horrible," said Schlereth, an ESPN analyst, during Week 11 last season. The ex-lineman added, "I thought it was a good decision to move Franklin inside, but I was wrong and they were wrong."

Fluker has acknowledged wanting to come to training camp lighter than last summer.

Franklin could be a prod to the long-armed, heavy-footed Fluker, who turns 24 next week, to be as nimble as possible.

A fit Fluker seems capable of dueling Franklin, should the Chargers opt to create a competition. Franklin will start somewhere of course, but as an emergency tackle would be a far more accomplished stand-in than Willie Smith, who upon replacing a hobbled Fluker in Game 16 last year gave up two quick sacks to Chiefs star Justin Houston.

At guard, Franklin should be an upgrade from either Chad Rinehart or Johnnie Troutman.

The caveat is, predicting how a veteran blocker's body will age is an inexact science, as the Chargers rediscovered with Rinehart, who as a 29-year-old regressed last season mere months after General Manager Tom Telesco invested a two-year, $5.1 million contract that guaranteed $2 million.

Rinehart started 13 games at guard for the 2013 Chargers, a playoff team, after following line coach Joe D'Alessandris over from Buffalo.

Brightening the outlook for 2014, the foot ailment that cost him four games in '13 didn't require surgery, leading to a full offseason to train.

Numerous defenders nevertheless beat Rinehart on run and pass plays last season. No doubt the loss of four centers to injury made the left guard's job more difficult, but Rinehart moved more stiffly than in 2013, was slower to recover when knocked off balance and seemed to have less life in his body.

Franklin, meantime, was more powerful and agile than Rinehart. He is a better athlete who even played left tackle for part of his college career.

Too, the long-armed, big-handed Franklin is a nasty performer whose physical style matches Nick Hardwick's call for the Chargers to acquire "bad dudes."

As with all Broncos and Chargers blockers, he benefited from a quick-pass system and a quarterback adept at setting pass protection and directing a no-huddle scheme.

The great unknown is how much life he still has in his body, after working 51 games for Miami and 70 for the Broncos.

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Report: Broncos Have Interest in FA C Chris Myers

Chalk this up as some of the least surprising news of the Denver Broncos offseason so far:

The Broncos’ interest in Myers would have plenty of obvious reasons. Myers was acquired by the Houston Texans in a trade from the Broncos eight years ago by Gary Kubiak and the Houston front office. Myers has been a durable starter at the pivot for Houston during that timeframe, and is a veteran who fits what the Broncos want to do offensively and has played in the Kubiak/Dennison offense.

Myers has been one of the better centers in the NFL in his time with the Texans, and he proved he could adapt to schemes when Bill O’Brien was hired as the team’s head coach.

His veteran presence will certainly be attractive to the Broncos, as will the fact that he won’t command a ton of money over a long period of time. The Broncos could likely get Myers on a cheap, short term contract as they prepare for a Super Bowl run.

This is the kind of player that you would want leading younger guys on the offensive line, someone who came from humble beginnings as a late-round draft pick and then emerged as the starting center shortly there after. Myers became a very valuable asset to the Broncos and Texans, and should be a solid starter for at least a couple more years in the NFL.

If the Broncos decide this is the way they want to go, it is because they missed out on Rodney Hudson (who signed an obscene deal with the Raiders) and Stefen Wisniewski (who might think he’s worth an obscene amount of money, like Hudson).

The Broncos have to play a bit of moneyball this offseason, so Myers could be more fiscally responsible.

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Andre Johnson Is Released After 12 Seasons With the Texans

Andre Johnson was released by the Houston Texans, and quarterback Ryan Mallett agreed to return to the team on Monday.

Johnson, a 12-year veteran and the longest-tenured Texan, was a first-round draft pick in 2003, joining the expansion team in its second season.

He had 85 catches for 936 yards last season, but the Texans were beginning to see DeAndre Hopkins as their top receiving threat.

“After exhausting all options of a possible trade, we informed Andre Johnson that he would be released,” General Manager Rick Smith said. “No player in the history of this franchise has represented the team, city and community in a more professional way. Andre is a Hall of Fame-caliber player and we appreciate his years of service and contributions to our team.”

Johnson, 33, is a seven-time Pro Bowler with seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and has 1,012 receptions for 13,597 yards in his career.

Johnson led the N.F.L. in yards receiving in 2008 and 2009. His career high came in 2012, when he had 1,598 yards receiving and the Texans reached the playoffs for the second time.

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Devin McCourty will do everything he can to keep Vince Wilfork in New England

The Patriots made their first big move of the offseason when they reportedly agreed to bring back safety Devin McCourty Sunday night.

One of the next big looming questions is will Vince Wilfork join McCourty on the Patriots after the defensive tackle was informed his contract would not be picked up for the 2015 season? The Patriots would like Wilfork to take a pay cut, but the 33-year-old is a free agent and can now sign with any team.

McCourty wants Wilfork to return to New England and make a run at another Super Bowl. McCourty discussed this and other matters appearing on a number of ESPN shows Monday.

“Me playing with him for five years and seeing him, there might not be 10 sacks in a season, but he causes so much havoc up front,” McCourty said on “Mike & Mike”. “It’€™s tough to think about [Wilfork leaving], especially for me. I’€™ve grown very close with him over the last couple of years and I’€™ve been talking to him throughout the whole process, but I think you have to try to move on.

“Obviously with me returning, I’€™m going to do everything I can do to get him back there playing in New England. It’€™ll be cool just to see what happens over the next month and hopefully he’€™s still back there helping out.”

Wilfork, like McCourty, has never played for another team besides the Patriots.

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Greg Olsen wants to retire with Panthers unlike notable ex-teammates

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen doesn’t want what happened to Steve Smith Sr. last year and is about to happen to DeAngelo Williams this year, which is to be released by the team that you want to end your career with.

He hopes the three-year extension signed on Thursday will make it possible for him to retire as a Carolina Panther.

“It’s never easy to see those kinds of guys go elsewhere," Olsen said of Smith and Williams, the team’s all-time leading receiver and rusher. “But sometime those hard decisions have to be made.

“That’s why I feel so fortunate that at this stage of my career I continue to be with the same team and get a fresh contract that gives me more security here.

“I realize that’s not necessarily the norm, so I don’t take that for granted."

To be clear, Olsen doesn’t plan to hang up his cleats once this new deal expires in 2018. He hopes to play a few more years beyond that, and he believes that will be with the Panthers.

But having seen Carolina release Smith last season and seeing it set to release Williams after the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday to clear $2 million under the salary cap, he doesn’t take anything for granted.

“A lot of things can happen, so to sit here and say I will play here until the end of my career [I can’t]," Olsen said. “That’s obviously the goal. That’s the goal of that contract and what everybody involved wanted to accomplish.

“I try not to think that far down the road."

Olsen was looking at the immediate future when he signed $22.5 million deal.

With the influx of young talent such as quarterback Cam Newton, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei blended with veterans such as himself, outside linebacker Thomas Davis and center Ryan Kalil, he believes the foundation is set for Carolina to be a perennial playoff contender.

Last year’s team won the NFC South to become the first in franchise history to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

“There really is a mixture on the roster of both young talent, older guys and veterans that still can play at a high level," Olsen said. “Our future is really bright. It’s exciting to be a part of."

Loyalty also factored into Olsen’s decision. The help team owner Jerry Richardson provided him and his wife, Kara, as their son T.J. underwent four heart surgeries is something he’ll never forget.

“Everything about it, we didn’t want to go anywhere else," Olsen said by phone from New York City, where his family is celebrating his upcoming 30th birthday. “[Charlotte] is where we wanted to be and raise our family."

And Charlotte is where he wants to retire, something Smith and Williams weren’t allowed to do.

“It really came together pretty fast," Olsen said. “We made it clear we wanted to finish our career here and just hammered it out. I still think I have a lot of years left to play. By no means do I want to get through this [contract] and call it a day.

“When we get to that point, we’ll see where we’re at."

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Shane Larkin scrapes by for owners taking a chance

Shane Larkin scraped by with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting, two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 32 minutes off the bench on Monday.

If you gambled on him during the five-game week this is a good start. For prospective owners this week he'll be a risky add in a four-game sample.

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Diamondbacks' Peter O'Brien working on defense

Diamondbacks catcher Peter O'Brien has been in Arizona since Jan. 6 working on his defense, MLB.com reports.

"I've always had a strong arm, but the biggest thing has been being able to use it," O'Brien said. "I'm trying to get a little more momentum going toward second base and that's definitely helped me out and my direction, just trying to shorten up those feet and trying to be more direct in line to second base."

Diamondbacks pitching prospect Archie Bradley, who has worked with O'Brien at Double-A Mobile and in the Arizona Fall League, has noticed the improvements in O'Brien's game.

"The improvements he's made catching, throwing guys out, his footwork, everything [is better]," Bradley said. "He's obviously a very gifted athlete, but to see him put in the work and to see the improvements he's made, it doesn't surprise me at all. He's improved a lot."

Battling to win the starting catcher job this spring, O'Brien is 4 for 9 with three walks in five games.

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Ryan Braun remains hitless Monday vs. the Royals

Ryan Braun remained hitless for the spring, going 0-for-2 in Monday's 5-4 loss to the Royals.

Braun is now 0-for-5 to start the spring. It's nothing to worry about at this point in the spring. The veteran outfielder is reportedly 100 percent recovered from the thumb issue that bothered him throughout the 2014 season. He finished with a .266/.324/.453 slash line along with 19 home runs and 81 RBI.

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Phillip Dorsett a good fit for IND after Round 1

NFL Media's Curtis Conway believes Miami WR Phillip Dorsett could be a good fit with the Colts, provided they don't invest a first-rounder in him.

"You talk about a good fit with with T.Y. (Hilton), can you imagine? Both of these speed demons out there on an island? You can't put a safety in the box to cover the run game, which means that will open up your run game," Conway said. "You get a Phillip Dorsett out there man to man, you're not gong to have a safety in the box. I like him, not right away in the first round, but maybe in the third round, I see Phillip Dorsett being a really good piece for that offense." Unfortunately, Dorsett likely won't be available in stanza three. He ranks No. 47 on Daniel Jeremiah's Top 50, and ESPN's Mel Kiper wrote recently that Dorsett is "clearly in the Round 1 mix."

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Orlando Franklin to get over $7 million per year

The Denver Post reports free agent G/T Orlando Franklin's deal with San Diego will average $7.2 million per year and include $14 million guaranteed.

It sounds like a five-year, $36 million pact. The Franklin deal is one of several agreed to over the weekend that can't be finalized until Tuesday. Franklin is expected to play left guard in San Diego, upgrading on Chad Rinehart.

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49ers' Frank Gore headed to Eagles

SAN FRANCISCO —Two people familiar with the moves say five-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore and cornerback Byron Maxwell have agreed to contracts with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because the deals weren't finalized and can't be announced until the NFL's new season begins on Tuesday at 4 p.m. EDT.

Free agents were allowed to start negotiating with teams on Saturday.

Gore leaves the San Francisco 49ers as the franchise's all-time leading rusher after 10 seasons. His contract is for three years and reportedly includes $7.5 million guaranteed. Gore will help replace LeSean McCoy. The two-time All-Pro will be traded to the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday.

Maxwell started 17 games for the Seattle Seahawks over the last two seasons and played opposite All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in a star-studded secondary that includes All-Pro safety Earl Thomas and three-time Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor. His deal is for five years and reportedly is worth $54 million with $25 million guaranteed.

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Reggie Wayne will considers other teams

The Indianapolis Star reports free agent Reggie Wayne will consider playing for a team other than the Colts.

Wayne had said he would not play for any other team, but the Colts decision to not even offer him a new contract has changed his mind. 36-years-old and coming off a dismal season, it is not guaranteed Wayne will receive any offers even if he is open to playing somewhere else. The future Hall of Famer may be coming to the end of the road.

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Texans won’t cut Andre Johnson until they know they can’t trade him

The Texans gave receiver Andre Johnson permission to seek a trade.  Johnson rejected it, asking to be released instead.

The Texans haven’t.  And they apparently won’t, at least not for now.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans won’t cut Johnson until they’re sure no trade will be made.

It’s a high-stakes game of P.R. chicken.  From Johnson’s perspective, no one will trade for a contract that will pay the player $11.5 million this year — so why shouldn’t the Texans just cut him?  From the team’s perspective, maybe a franchise that hopes to acquire Johnson at a reduced rate will give something up to get the deal done sooner than later — so why should the Texans let him go?

Maybe the Texans should consider everything Johnson has done for the franchise over the last dozen years.  They’ve made it clear they don’t want Johnson, telling him that he’ll have a reduced role in the hopes of provoking him to say he wants to leave.  Now that the Texans got what they wanted, why would they delay his ability to hit the market along with the other veteran free agents?

The Texans have every right to squat on his rights.  But that sends a bad message to Johnson and to the rest of the players who, if their careers go incredibly well, eventually will be in the same position.

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5 possible destinations for Giants' free agent safety Antrel Rolle

When you're not in the "upper class" of NFL free agents — i.e. the available players in their prime who will command top dollar — the signing period can be an exercise in patience.

In 2010, the last time Antrel Rolle hit the free agent market, he was firmly a part of that top tier, coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance and five very good seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. His production and age (27 at the time) earned him a five-year, $37 million deal from the Giants that made him the highest paid safety in the NFL.

In hindsight, that contract looks like a relative bargain when you consider the fact that Rolle is the rare free agent signing to play out the entirety of his contract at a fairly high level. But coming off of what was probably his worse season in 2014, his decent numbers (89 tackles, three interceptions, one forced fumble) masking the many missed tackles and lack of impact plays. Rolle is also at the age where his once-great speed and athleticism are starting to decline, which puts him in a decidedly different situation as a free agent.

Rolle is a notch below the top available safeties at this point, which include the Patriots' Devin McCourty and the Broncos' Rahim Moore, which means that teams in need of a safety will only chase Rolle when it is clear they are out of the running for the upper echelon guys.

Rolle's market is difficult to gauge until we see what kind of contracts McCourty, Moore, and company land. His name recognition and past performance will likely put his salary above the lower class of $1-3 million annually, which might be what the Giants would be willing to pay him to return, but not close to the $7-10 million range that the top safeties will get.

Assuming the Giants let Rolle walk, here are a few teams that might be interested in the 10-year veteran:

Chicago Bears
Safeties under contract: Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen, Anthony Walters.
Why Rolle is a fit: New Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes to have safeties who are versatile and interchangeable. Rolle has lost a step, but has made a career off of being able to cover the slot, tight end, middle of the field, and play close to the line of scrimmage. Starting strong safety Ryan Mundy is a former Giant, so communication on the back end would be less of a concern.

Dallas Cowboys
Safeties under contract: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Keelan Johnson
Why Rolle is a fit: The free safety spot next to Church was a question mark coming into the season, though Wilcox improved as the season went on. Rolle would give them another body to rotate in on nickel packages, and a veteran leader for their secondary. It's probably the role he's best suited to now.

Houston Texans
Safeties under contract: DJ Swearinger, Lonnie Ballentine, Terrance Parks
Why Rolle is a fit: Swearinger is the only starting-caliber safety on the roster, and he's more of a "box" safety than a rangy coverage type. Rolle would be a solid stopgap replacement for free agent Danieal Manning, a similar type of player with the ability to play both safety positions.

Indianapolis Colts
Safeties under contract: Winston Guy, Dewey McDonald
Why Rolle is a fit: As you can see, the Colts safety depth chart is basically at ground zero, with 2014 starters Laron Landry and Mike Adams both free agents. Landry will be gone after his second PED suspension, but If they don't bring Adams back, Rolle would give the Colts another potential ballhawk alongside cornerback Vontae Davis, and help shore up their porous pass defense.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Safeties under contract: Jonathan Cyprien, Tommie Campbell, Joshua Evans, Craig Loston, Matt Daniels
Why Rolle is a fit: Rolle said he wants to play for a winner but he might not have a choice. The Jaguars have a young secondary who could use Rolle's intangibles and mentorship, and are also desperate for a playmaker in the defensive backfield. Rolle could be rejuvenated by a move to his home state.

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Jason Fox says he's ready to start if needed

It’s too early to say whether Miami Dolphins starting left tackle Branden Albert will be ready by Week 1 of the regular season. Albert suffered a torn ACL last November and is about four months into his rehab.

But if Albert, a former Pro Bowler, isn’t ready to return in September, backup offensive tackle Jason Fox says he’s ready and willing to fill that position. Fox signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract with Miami on Thursday and will serve as insurance. Fox started the final two games at right tackle for the Dolphins last season.

“Obviously, Branden is a great player, he’s one of the best tackles in the NFL,” Fox said. “If he’s not ready to go, I’ll be ready. Whatever role these coaches want to put me in, like I’ve always said, I’m here for the team.”

Fox joined the Dolphins last year after spending his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions. He waited patiently for his chance -- Fox was inactive in seven of the first nine games -- before earning two starts in Weeks 16 and 17 due to multiple injuries on the line. He has the capability to play left tackle and right tackle, which increased his value to Miami.

Fox said he expects the offensive line to improve in 2015.

“This is a very talented group, from the older guys to the younger guys,” Fox said. “Not all offensive lines have that and we’ve got good offensive line coaches. Honestly, the second year is just going to be an improvement on the first.”

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Bill O'Brien talks Andre Johnson

HOUSTON – Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien says life is always busy in the NFL. Well, the week his football team just went through is a perfect example of it.

"We're just trying to put together as competitive of a football team as we can," O'Brien said Sunday.

The first steps in doing just that were taken when the team elected to re-sign corner back Kareem Jackson and offensive lineman Derek Newton over the weekend.
Jackson received a 4-year, $34 million deal while Newton signed a 5-year, $26.5 million contract.

"What we try to do is do the best we can to keep our core players together," O'Brien said. "Kareem and Derek are two guys that are core players."

Along with being those "core players", O'Brien says the two exemplify what the organization is looking for when they evaluate future additions to their locker room.
"I think it's a great example of hard work and perseverance," O'Brien said. "Guys that come into this organization and are good citizens, and play hard and do everything they're asked of, they're going to get rewarded and that's what happened to Kareem and Derek."

That "core player" distinction is an interesting one. Many would argue wide receiver Andre Johnson and center Chris Myers fit that same description. There is, however, one noticeable difference.


O'Brien had nothing but great things to say about the two veterans the team is parting ways with, especially when it comes to Johnson. Despite the assertions the wide receiver has made publicly about being asked to take a "reduced role" in the upcoming 2015 season, O'Brien appreciates what #80 brought to the team.

"I've said this over and over again, Andre Johnson will go down as one of the best receivers to ever play this game," O'Brien said. "I have a ton of respect for Andre. Andre did everything we asked him to do and then some, just a great player. He'll always be a Houston Texan."

The Texans continue to be linked to several free agents, but quarterback continues to be the one position everyone is looking at.

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Frank Gore deserves fresh start with Eagles

There should be a waitlist of volunteers to chauffeur Frank Gore to the airport.

The TSA screening area should be backed with admirers bidding him farewell, cheering when his plane takes off for Philadelphia.

No 49er deserves a fresh start more than Gore. He's earned the right to hunt for a Super Bowl, to earn every nickel he's worth, to value his legacy over his loyalty to the 49ers.

So if he decided to play for the Eagles -- who reportedly are ready to sign him to a two-year deal with $7.5 million guaranteed -- then that's exactly where he should go. I'd even recommend a couple underrated cheesesteak joints, reciprocity for the thank-you pizza he bought the media at the end of last season.

Of course, having Gore retire a 49er would have been ideal. He is the all-time leading rusher, the greatest 49er since the glory years ended with the departure of Jerry Rice and Steve Young. But the risk of Gore spending his golden years with a sinking team disrespects what he's meant to the franchise.

Sure, the 49ers could end up a playoff team and Gore could be the inspirational leader of a surprising title run. It's possible.

But even more possible is that not happening. If the 49ers finished with six wins, 10 losses and two arrests, no one would be shocked.

Gore said at the end of the year he wanted to stay with the 49ers, but he would wait to see how things went. Who would be the coaches. Which players were kept. Which players were added.

The result was Gore choosing to leave.

How telling is it for the franchise that touts "winning with class" that it is losing its classiest player? The news regarding the departure of Gore comes days after the news about the arrival of Jerome Simpson, who's been arrested three times and suspended twice. If that doesn't illustrate how the 49ers are trending ...

The potential for Gore to be stuck in more mess, to exhaust his last fourth-quarter bursts on a spirited pursuit of 8-8, should be unsettling for anyone who claims to appreciate Gore.

He's posted eight 1,000-yard seasons with the 49ers. The first four of those were for NFC West scrubs as he did his best to carry the team. When the 49ers became
a contender, Gore remained productive and reliable -- embodying teams that thrived on toughness and heart.

Though he has stiff-armed annual predictions that he was washed up, even Gore has to know he has only so many runs through the line of scrimmage remaining. It's better if he spent those on meaningful football.

Indianapolis might've been a better fit. New England might've been a surer bet. Dallas might've made a bigger splash. But Philadelphia is better for Gore than the current 49ers.

The Eagles crumbled down the stretch last year and didn't make the playoffs. But that was largely because of the injury to quarterback Nick Foles. Now healthy, they should be a factor in the NFC.

On top of that, Gore figures to get plenty of touches since featured back LeSean McCoy was traded to Buffalo. That matters because Gore still needs another 927 yards to get to 12,000 for his career, which is working out to be baseline for Hall of Fame credentials. If Gore matches his output from last season, he'll pass Thurman Thomas on the career rushing yards list.

Another perk: Being in the Northeast will help Gore's legacy. With more viewers and more media, Gore can build his lore. Imagine how his gritty, clutch runs will be glorified inside the East Coast media machine. That helps his anecdotal case for a yellow jacket.

To be sure, Gore is helping out the 49ers. His leaving takes them off the hook for having to let him go. They can't afford to pay him what Philadelphia reportedly will, not if they want to plug other holes. And they might not want to pay a 31-year-old running back who has a young horse in Carlos Hyde waiting behind him.

The 49ers might've wanted Gore back for sentimental reasons, but it makes sense if they are relieved. Gore fans should be relieved, too. An all-time great 49er gets the chance to ride off into the sunset instead of mire in the muck.

Godspeed, Frank Gore.

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Yasmani Grandal has a big game in tie against Indians

Yasmani Grandal went 3-for-3 with a home run and three runs batted in a tie with the Indians on Saturday.

Grandal sandwiched a fourth-inning solo home run with a pair of RBI singles in the first and sixth innings. The catcher is hitting .500 through eight spring at-bats thus far. It appears he'll be platooning with A.J. Ellis behind the dish this season.

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Chip Hale thinks Peter O'Brien can catch in majors

Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said Saturday of Peter O'Brien that he's "seen nothing that shows he can't be a frontline catcher in the big leagues."

"He's caught, he's blocked, he's received the ball well and he's thrown well," Hale added. Most scouts seem to think O'Brien won't be a long-term catcher, but the D'Backs have been adamant about him staying behind the plate. The 24-year-old is intriguing because of his power and could become the team's catcher sooner rather than later.

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Yonder Alonso finishes with three hits, three RBI

Yonder Alonso brought the wood in Sunday's loss to the Rockies, going 3-for-3 with three RBI.

Alonso cleared the bases, which were loaded at the time, with a double to right field in the first inning. He doubled again to lead off the third and singled in the fifth. Alonso had been hitless in his first six spring at-bats, so he brought his average all the way up to .333 with the performance.

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Jon Jay (wrist) hoping to be ready by opening day

Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is confident he'll be able to participate on opening day, according to MLB.com.

Jay is recovering from a wrist injury which has limited him during the beginning of spring training. Jay said he's progressing enough to be ready by the time the regular season is set to start.

"The timeline is to be ready April 5," Jay said. "I'm trying to be smart about it. I feel good with where I am now and how much time is left in camp."

The Cardinals open with the Cubs on opening day.

Jay had wrist surgery last October after dealing with pain during the 2014 season. Despite the injury, Jay was still able to hit .303 with 46 RBI in 140 games.

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