Texans release four players

The post-draft roster cuts are coming around the league as teams make room for their draft picks and undrafted free agent signings.

The Texans made four of those cuts on Monday in addition to making the signing of running back Alfred Blue official. They cut tight end Zach Conque, cornerback Bryce Jones, tight end Ryan Malleck and linebacker Gimel President.

One of the most effective receiving backs and return aces of his generation, Sproles currently sits eighth in career all-purpose yards.

Sproles needs just 528 yards to enter the top five on that list. Now he will get another chance this season.

The challenge for Martin, however, will be earning a roster spot over the likes of Marshawn Lynch, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and undrafted free-agent Chris Warren. With the exception of Lynch, these other backs are younger and potentially have a brighter future. If new head coach Jon Gruden doesn’t see some of the old Doug Martin on the field in camp, he’ll likely be the odd man out.

Even Lynch could make for a difficult cut to swallow, as he’s owed $4.5 million in guaranteed money this season. None of Martin’s contract is guaranteed.

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks is a fantastic player. He had 77 tackles, 2.0 sacks and six passes defended last season. Yet, the defending Super Bowl champs don’t seem too keen on keeping him around.

In the case of the Saints, however, it may make sense: Brees gave the Saints a hometown discount with his contract this offseason, when he easily could have played hardball with them and made more money, either in New Orleans or elsewhere. When you have an elite quarterback taking less money than his market value, it makes sense to use all of your resources to try to build a team around him. Using two first-round picks on his heir apparent might help the franchise in the long run, but it wouldn’t help them win with Brees this year. And winning with Brees this year is the Saints’ only priority.

The Patriots utilized Gillislee early in the 2017 season, but they lost confidence in him toward the end of the year. He played only once during the final eight games of the regular season. 

While Gillislee has the talent to help out a backfield this season, the Patriots may not want to pay to make it theirs. Instead, they could save more than $2 million by releasing him.

New Orleans Saints safety Chris Banjo isn’t a star, or even a starter. However, he has a lot of value as a depth player and a special teams ace, which is why he has lasted in the NFL since 2013 despite making only two career starts.

The Jets drafted running back Elijah McGuire last year, but they still might be in the market for another back in the middle rounds.

Bilal Powell is in the final year of his contract and could be gone in 2019, so they may be looking to find a long-term back.

A year after drafting wide receivers ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, the Jets have a crowded receivers room. They signed Terrelle Pryor in free agency and are getting Quincy Enunwa back from injury. They have just six draft picks after moving up from No. 6 to 3 in the first round, so there are only so many areas they can address, and I don’t think receiver is one.

What’s the big takeaway from all this? Just two weeks in, there are no sure things.

This week, our panel comprises David Schoenfield, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian, Bradford Doolittle and Sarah Langs.

It took a week, but J.D. Martinez hit his first home run in a Red Sox uniform. He has continued to hit the ball hard, and he and Hanley Ramirez have powered the Red Sox to a 13-2 start. Less happily, a Xander Bogaerts ankle injury interrupted his hot start at the plate; he had delivered nine extra-base hits in nine games. — Dan McCarthy, ESPN Stats & Info

That comment could be taken several different ways, but it could only add to the speculation that has circulated around Rosen for months. Despite his undeniable physical ability, many have questioned his desire and commitment to the sport. It could be the reason he could slip in the draft, though he still is a possibility to be taken in the top four by the Browns, Giants or Jets.

“Right or wrong, this quote about Josh Rosen from former UCLA coach Jim Mora will be a major concern to some NFL people,” former NFL lineman and NFL Network analyst Ross Tucker wrote on Twitter.

Despite Mora’s public backing of Darnold to go No. 1 overall to Cleveland based on “fit,” he believes Rosen would be the greater pro in the long run.

“Josh, I think, without a doubt, is the number one quarterback in the draft. He’s a franchise-changer. He’s got the ability to have an immediate impact,” Mora said. “His arm talent, intelligence, and his ability to see the game and diagnose the game is rare. He’d come to the sidelines after a play and it was uncanny — he could right away say exactly why he made every decision.”

Lions sign center Wesley Johnson

The Lions added some help for the middle of their offensive line.

The team announced the signing of center Wesley Johnson.

The Patriots looked like they finally had a well-defined backfield once they added Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead last offseason. Gillislee was supposed to replace LeGarrette Blount as the power back, while the more-versatile Burkhead would be called upon in many different situations. James White and Lewis were set to split time as the passing-game backs.

Instead, Gillislee fizzled, Burkhead got hurt and White failed to build off his status as Super Bowl hero, allowing Lewis to emerge as a workhorse down the stretch. The Patriots were reminded that Lewis is a special, all-around talent, but his breakout also priced him out of New England. Burkhead was the cheaper and younger player to re-sign, while his former Bengals teammate, Jeremy Hill, was a sneaky-good signing to push Gillislee.

The Patriots still have 80 percent of their run-blocking back, and between Burkhead, Gillislee, Hill and White, they go into the season with healthy options.

Lewis was a luxury, but as with almost every running back who comes through New England, he was far from a necessity.

Garrett and Lal were among the Cowboys’ staffers to attend SMU’s Pro Day on Thursday, getting a good look at wide receiver Courtland Sutton.

“He can catch the ball like no other,” Lal said of Sutton. “He’s got a huge catch radius. Strong hands. So that’s a start. If a receiver can catch, obviously that’s key. Then, he’s coachable. We were giving him, on the fly, some coaching points and kind of coaching him a little hard, seeing how he would respond, and he responded. He’s not polished like most of these guys coming out, but a great athlete, and he’s a moldable piece of clay.”

Sutton did not run Thursday, standing on his 4.54 from the combine, but he did do position drills with Garrett and Lal leading the workout. Sutton drew scouts from 25 teams, including four other wide receiver coaches.flames_012

NFL’s national anthem stance not worthy of chatter during players meeting at Combine

“It’s one of those things where it’s a trade-off, right?” Winston said. “The Thursday night package drives quite a bit of revenue. But at the same time, health and safety has to be prominent and important and something you don’t really want to trade off for money.”

As for Winston himself, he heads toward free agency in March hoping to play a 13th NFL season. The 34-year-old has spent the past four years primarily as a Bengals backup after starting for Houston (2006-11), Kansas City (2012) and Arizona (2013).

Maybe he gets on the Devils’ top power play, but with a resume of zero power-play goals over the last two seasons, that’s no guarantee. (But if the Devils were hoping for more scoring when their opponent pulls the goalie, they’ve made the right move. Grabner tied for the NHL lead last season with four empty-net goals and already has a whopping seven this season, two shy of the NHL record).

In hopes of staying ahead of the curve, I wanted to take one last look at the possible fantasy implications, good or bad, for top names that are on most NHL analysts’ lists of players likely to move.

No. If there’s movement before the ball is secured and the ball touches the ground, it’s not a catch. But how much movement is too much? Well, that’s purely subjective. Maybe the ball jostles around a little, but the receiver still has his hands securely under it, it never touches the ground, and then he locks it up. That’s a catch.

Allow Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald to demonstrate. Fitzgerald and Orlando Scandrick are equally entitled to this ball. Fitz saves it from being intercepted and grabs it before it hits the ground. Note how he gets his left hand under the ball and then secures it to his body.

“When we’re between these lines, we got to play for one another and that’s all that matters,” Thompson said. “I don’t care if X don’t like X off the court. I really don’t give a s—. As long as you’re on the court playing hard and playing for each other, that’s all that matters to me. We don’t got to talk to each other off the court. As long as we talk on the court, on the defensive end, that’s all that matters to me. You go to work every day and you might not like a guy. You might not like the guy you work with. So be it.”

That could change, however, with Ezekiel Elliott’s legal status still in limbo.

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, Philadelphia and New England flip spots in the rankings, as the Eagles move up and the Patriots drop after two weeks on top. Dallas was the week’s big mover, jumping from No. 11 to sixth after a strong showing against Kansas City.

The Browns blocked one would-be game-tying field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and Chargers kicker Josh Lambo pushed another wide right as time expired, giving the previously 0-14 Browns their first victory of the season, 20-17. The win prevents Cleveland — a city that has enjoyed the recent successes of MLB’s Indians and NBA’s Cavaliers — from joining the Detroit Lions in NFL infamy as the only teams to go winless over a 16-game scheduled. Still, this doesn’t mean the Browns are, you know, good.

The win did come at a cost, the win now puts the San Francisco Niners in position to receive the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft should both teams finish with just one victory this season.

This isn’t a new idea. My colleague, Pete Prisco, has been talking about this for a while now. During Bortles’ hot streak to begin December — when he completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 903 yards, seven touchdowns, no picks, and a 128.6 passer rating over a three-game stretch — Prisco noticed the Jaguars were letting him throw on early downs.

That’s not what happened against the Bills. Of their 11 offensive drives (not including their final kneel-down series), the Jaguars began with a running play seven times and a passing play four times. Of the four times they started with a passing play, twice they eventually scored — one touchdown and one field goal. Remember, they only scored 10 points all game long.

“Did we do the wrong thing with the Chargers? It’s probably way too early to say that,” a high-ranking executive with one NFL team said. “Let’s see how it plays out. Let’s see how they both do when they get into the new stadium. But I guess it does make you start to think a little bit.”chargers_086

Everything J.J. Redick Does is From Long Distance

J.J. Redick was woozy. His head was spinning after meeting with a few dozen 76ers employees. Bryan Colangelo’s pitch lasted over an hour. “It was about 1:30 in the morning.

“I think he’s a throwback. He’s a throwback to Jason Kidd. He reminds me of a young Jason Kidd without the 3-ball, [but] Jason started the league without [that shot]. His size, his demeanor, he has a calming effect on his teammates. He doesn’t get rattled. I think the future is going to be really, really bright for the young guy. Everybody talks about his shot, but his shot is going to come. He’s going to be a really good player in our league.” — Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who coached Kidd as an assistant in Dallas.

With Garoppolo’s representatives in the crowd, Lynch outlined the plan for dealing with Garoppolo’s future, citing that the first order of business is to get him in the playbook and to allow him to begin meeting his teammates.

“I can tell you, second-round picks are very valuable in this league, particularly where we are at as an organization,” Lynch said. “And so, this is a guy we wanted and were willing to give what we thought was a very valuable commodity and exchange for him. So, we’re excited moving forward that he’s going to be a part of our future.

“We believe very much that Jimmy is going to be our quarterback of the future, and we’ll let everything else play out from there.”

This is probably another variation of the “Sandman” that Sanford had on other masks, but it’s basically what Gandalf The Vampire would look like if he had spring allergies.flames_082

Sunday night’s total is set at 39 points. The OVER is 6-1 in Denver’s last seven games as a favorite of 11 points or more.

Denver has gone 12-5 SU in its last 17 night games. That streak of success is likely to continue against this depleted Giants team. If New York hopes to keep this one close, it will need to get an excellent performance out of a defense that ranks 24th in scoring defense and 27th in total defense.

This is New York’s first game as a double-digit underdog since Super Bowl XLII back in 2008.

What, exactly, did Texans coach Bill O’Brien see in Tom Savage to start him Week 1? Watson has been electric since taking over for Savage at halftime of the opener. He ranks No. 1 in Total QBR (80.2) and leads the league in touchdown passes with 15. Watson had one of the best games of any quarterback this season in Houston’s 57-14 win over the Titans in Week 4, with five total touchdowns (four passing) while completing 73.5 percent of his passes.

He was constantly evading pressure, too. Watson did have one interception when he tried to force a throw into the end zone at the end of the first half, but he’s young, and he’s going to make some mistakes. I had a second-round grade on Watson because he could be erratic at times — he has four picks in three starts — and I had him going to the Texans at pick No. 57 in my two-round mock draft in April (he ended up the 12th overall pick). He has the potential to be a superstar, and he’s keeping the Texans in the AFC South race.

Dennis Allen’s unit has produced shocking numbers over its past three games, but even if the defense can’t keep it up, the Saints might only need to be competent to challenge for the NFC South crown. Few quarterbacks have needed — and gotten — less from their defenses to succeed than the 38-year-old the Saints have under center.lakers_051

NFL to change ‘May 16 rule’ for rookie eligibility

The NFL has agreed to drop the rule that prevented rookies from joining their new NFL teams until their school’s final exams were completed.

According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the new “May 16 rule” agreement will allow all rookies to join their NFL team around May 16, whether they are still enrolled in school or not.

The old rule had been adopted in 1990 to ensure student-athletes remained in school and finished their course work, rather than drop out to join their team.

Bradford, who suffered a noncontact injury to his left knee during a Week 1 win over New Orleans Saints and last practiced on Sept. 21, on Friday said the knee has “come a long ways” after he returned to practice Thursday.

Bradford, who flew to Florida on Sept. 22 to seek a second opinion from orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, was given last week off to rest and rehabilitate his injury. Sources earlier confirmed to ESPN that scans revealed no structural damage and that surgery wasn’t required.

After getting the second opinion, Bradford is hopeful this won’t be an issue that continues to surface.

“Anytime you go for a second opinion there’s always a little bit of anxiety because you’re not quite sure in how that’s going to go or what that conversation is going to be like,” he said. “I would say after going down there it was definitely good news.x (13)

Adam Gase made the biggest coaching mistake of NFL Week 2 (on purpose!)

After postponing their Week 1 contest due to Hurricane Irma, the Miami Dolphins opened their season by taking on the Los Angeles Chargers in StubHub Center. It was a low-scoring, back-and-forth affair, with the Dolphins eventually gaining a two-point lead with 1:05 left in the game.

And then things got weird, leading to arguably the worst coaching decision of Week 2. Or was it? Let’s go over the end of the game.

Tolbert, along with McDermott, Joe Webb, and Kaelin Clay, will face their former team this Sunday in Charlotte. Earlier this week, Tolbert said the game means a lot to him.

Aside from the fact that the field goal was awesome, it was also his 12th consecutive made field goal from at least 50 yards and that’s pretty cool too.

The Texans were already down a right tackle to start the season after Derek Newton tore both patellar tendons last October. Kendall Lamm has been a backup in Houston after joining the Texans as an undrafted free agent following the 2015 draft. He was hoping to earn the starting spot at right tackle, but Brown’s holdout made it necessary for Lamm to switch to the left side. He had such a rough day against the Jaguars that he was benched:

That left Breno Giacomini to man the right side. Giacomini actually had a couple of solid seasons with the Seattle Seahawks back in 2013 and 2014. He started each game — including two postseason games — for Seattle in 2013. In 2014, he missed seven games due to injury but started the other nine regular season and postseason contests, including Super Bowl XLIX. But in his new role in Houston, it’s not going well for him, either:

When both tackles aren’t able to hold their own, the guards have to try to compensate, which makes things harder for the center. It’s felt across the entire line.
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NFL Panic Index 2017, Week 2: The Giants can’t win without Odell Beckham Jr.

Last season, the Giants had the Cowboys’ number. Until the Dallas starters all got the final week of the season off against the Eagles, the Giants had been the only team to hand them a loss — and they did it twice.

One week into the new season, 2017 is already different. Not only did the Cowboys dominate the Week 1 matchup, but the Giants looked completely lifeless on offense. A 46-yard drive in garbage time got the offense above the 200-yard mark, and if not for a field goal in the third quarter, they would have been shut out.

Then again, the Giants were missing their most valuable weapon on offense: Odell Beckham Jr. The dynamic wide receiver missed just his second game since 2015, and just like the first time, the Giants couldn’t get much going on offense. Eli Manning especially missed his top receiver. Manning threw for just 220 yards and was picked off once Sunday night. Two seasons ago against the Vikings, he totaled just 234 yards without Beckham in a 49-17 blowout loss.

And the Bills are sitting at No. 2, and the Patriots are third after losing to the Chiefs in Week 1 and beating the Saints in Week 2, which is a dubious honor. Nobody’s surprised that the Jets are bring up the rear here.

Perhaps my love stems from the fact that I grew up a soccer player, an undersized one at that (what up, late puberty!), and the only way I could have any type of participatory fantasy regarding the NFL was to imagine myself a kicker. Other kids my age dreamed of being Joe Montana, tossing that perfect spiral to the end zone. Others saw themselves as Lawrence Taylor, bursting into the backfield and laying down a bone-crunching hit.
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