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Packers Sign TE Marcedes Lewis

The Packers have signed free agent tight end Marcedes Lewis following his visit to Green Bay’s facilities today, as Lewis himself indicated on Instagram.

Green Bay, of course, already inked fellow tight end Jimmy Graham earlier this offseason, but Graham is far more likely to be placed in the slot than actually line up and block. While he’ll likely compete for backup tight end snaps with incumbent Lance Kendricks, Lewis may have the advantage, especially in the run game. Indeed, Pro Football Focus graded Lewis as the single-best run-blocking tight end in the NFL in 2017.

Lewis, who turned 34 years old last week, hasn’t been a prolific receiving threat in roughly a half-dozen years, but he won’t be asked to work much in the passing game given the presence of Graham and starting receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Last season, Lewis posted numbers roughly in line with his age-30+ production, managing 24 receptions for 318 yards and five touchdowns, three of which came in a single Week 3 contest against the Ravens.

The Packers were the only club known to have expressed interest in Lewis, who was released by the Jaguars in late March. Jacksonville’s decision to part ways with Lewis came as a surprise, especially given that the club had exercised his 2018 option just a month prior. Lewis had been set to earn a base salary of $3.5MM for the upcoming campaign, but the Jaguars cleared that entire total by releasing the veteran tight end.

Green Bay won’t have to worry about sacrificing a compensatory pick in exchange for signing Lewis, as the May 8 deadline for free agents to factor into the comp pick formula has already passed. That may have been a more important consideration for former Packers general manager Ted Thompson, as new GM Brian Gutekunst has shown a willingness to explore free agency.

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Judge Dismisses Domestic Violence Charge Against Reuben Foster

A judge has dismissed a domestic violence charge against 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee (Twitter links). Judge Nona Klippen has also dismissed another charge relating to Foster purportedly smashing his ex-girlfriend’s cell phone as she was attempting to contact police, and reduced the weapons charge against Foster from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Foster’s ex-girlfriend, Elissa Ennis, testified last week that she fabricated allegations against Foster. After originally claiming Foster had beaten her and thrown her down stairs, Ennis admitted that her visible injuries had actually been suffered during a fight with another woman. Ennis, angry over a reported breakup between she and Foster, wanted to take Foster “down” by pinning domestic violence charges on him.

Although Ennis recanted her allegations, the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office did not drop charges against Foster. Nevertheless, Judge Klippen made “multiple references” to insufficient evidence in her ruling, tweets Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, an indication that she was satisfied with Ennis’ re-telling of events.

The 49ers had been adamant that they would quickly release Foster if any domestic violence accusations were proven true, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue any longer. Foster will need to appear in court for his now-misdemeanor weapons charge, and is also facing a marijuana charge in Alabama. While neither offense may result in much legal action, Foster could still be subject to an NFL-imposed suspension.

Now that the domestic violence charges against Foster have been dropped, he will be allowed to rejoin the 49ers as early as Thursday, the club announced today.

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Richie Incognito Placed On Psych Hold

Richie Incognito was involved in an altercation at a Florida gym and was subsequently placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold by police, according to TMZ Sports. The alleged victim says the free agent offensive lineman threw a tennis ball at him for no reason and also tossed a dumbbell. 

In the midst of all of this, the alleged victim claims Incognito was rambling about the government and screaming at the man to “get off” his “[expletive] playground.” Cops came to the scene and took the lineman away, but did not formally arrest him. Instead, he was taken into custody under Florida’s “Baker Act,” which allows officers to submit a person for psychiatric evaluation when it is believed that they may harm someone else. The state’s laws stipulate that Incognito could be held for mandatory psychiatric evaluation for up to 72 hours.

Incognito hit the free agent market this week when he was released by the Bills. The lineman is reportedly looking to play in 2018 – a reversal from his retirement announcement earlier this year – but teams will do some digging into this incident before offering him a deal.

On the field, Incognito has been nothing short of stellar in recent years. The veteran has earned three consecutive Pro Bowl trips and profiles as the best interior lineman on the open market today.

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NFL Owners Pass New Anthem Policy

NFL owners have voted to pass a new policy regarding demonstrations during the national anthem. On Wednesday, commissioner Roger Goodell announced that teams – not players – will be fined for signs of “disrespect” during the anthem. Meanwhile, players will be permitted to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they choose to do so. 

Here, in full, is the league’s breakdown of its new rules, which were passed via unanimous vote:

1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.

4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.​

Goodell, for his part, is hopeful that the new policy will help to fix things from a public relations perspective.

It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said in his statement. “This is not and was never the case.”

The new policy will shift the onus of anthem rule enforcement and player discipline from the league office to individual teams. However, the new policy is unlikely to satisfy the players, who were not involved in the crafting of the new policy.

Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a “compromise” between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue,” NFLPA executive George Atallah wrote on Twitter, “But certainly not with player leadership; we weren’t there or part of the discussions.”

The union released a statement shortly after Goodell’s press conference which hints at a forthcoming grievance:

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new “policy.” NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.

The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.

Our union will review the new “policy” and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

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Pats Owner: Brady, Gronkowski Will Show

The absence of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski at Patriots OTAs caused a stir this week, but owner Robert Kraft does not seem concerned. Kraft says Brady is excited about being at minicamp, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, which is an apparent confirmation that he will be in attendance at some point. Kraft says Gronkowski will also show for minicamp, despite rumblings of the tight end angling for a new contract (Twitter link). 

It’s not exactly clear why Brady opted to stay home on Tuesday, but speculation has been rampant regarding his relationship with coach Bill Belichick. Some believe that Brady is looking to send a message to the head coach, but Kraft says “nothing’s changed” with regards to their relationship and “everything is good.”

Kraft’s assertion that Gronk will show up for practice jibes with a recent report on the tight end’s plans. It stands to reason that the dynamic pass-catcher could arrive as early as Thursday, which is the one-year anniversary of his last contract restructuring. Per NFL rules, a deal involving incentives cannot be reworked until one year after the last round of adjustments.

Brady’s decision to skip OTAs is unprecedented, but it may not be a hinderance to his performance after yet another brilliant season. Even at age 40, Brady was terrific, leading the league in passing yards on the way to his third MVP trophy. Gronk, meanwhile, had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Chargers’ Hunter Henry Tears ACL

The Chargers’ offense received a brutal blow on Tuesday, and barring an impending second opinion revealing a different diagnosis, Hunter Henry will be lost for the season.

Henry suffered a torn ACL during a drill Tuesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The third-year tight end will seek a second opinion on Wednesday, per Schefter, who adds this injury came during a non-contact sequence.

The Bolts have now confirmed the initial diagnosis for their top tight end.

Expected to make a big leap after the Chargers announced they would not bring back Antonio Gates, Henry will now be out until his contract year of 2019. The former second-round pick amassed 579 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season, emerging as the Bolts’ go-to tight end. He has 12 career TDs.

Gates remains a free agent, and with the calculus changing considerably for the Chargers this week, it can’t be ruled out the 37-year-old could be back for one last run with the team. The Bolts signed longtime Broncos tight end Virgil Green in free agency, but the eighth-year player rarely provided much in the way of receiving production. Instead, Green’s more known for his blocking skills. Gates caught 30 passes for a career-low 316 yards last season, but in the two games Henry missed in December, the future Hall of Famer totaled 127 yards and a touchdown.

This marks the latest setback for the Chargers, who have dealt with a string of injuries to skill-position players in recent years. Danny Woodhead, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have seen seasons nullified or disrupted by maladies in recent years. Now, Henry — who has played 29 of a possible 32 regular-season games as a pro — joins the list. Only the stakes are higher now than they were when those previous injuries occurred. The Chargers have drawn buzz as the AFC West favorite after re-routing their season from 0-4 to the playoff bubble last fall. And the events of Tuesday strip Philip Rivers of one of his top weapons.

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Jets Trade Christian Hackenberg To Raiders

Christian Hackenberg is headed to the opposite coast. The Jets have traded the quarterback to the Raiders for a conditional seventh-round pick, coach Todd Bowles announced. 

Hackenberg was considered to be an extreme longshot to make the Jets’ final cut following the re-signing of Josh McCown, the free agent addition of Teddy Bridgewater, and the drafting of Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick. The waiving of Bryce Petty gave the former Penn State signal caller some reason for hope, but the Jets probably saw little need to keep Hackenberg around after Bridgewater took the practice field on Tuesday with no ill effects from his surgically-repaired knee.

Hackenberg, the No. 51 overall pick in the 2016 draft, has yet to throw an NFL pass. In an effort to get his career on track, Hackenberg recently revamped his throwing motion – without first consulting Jets coaches.

“[Hackenberg] hasn’t talked to me about it,” Bowles said earlier this month. “He’s just worked on it and I learned about it after the fact.” 

Hackenberg’s odds of making the Raiders’ final cut are stronger than they were in New York, but it’s far from a guarantee that he’ll be in Oakland come September. The Raiders already have EJ Manuel and Connor Cook battling for time behind starter Derek Carr.

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Eagles’ LB Paul Worrilow Suffers ACL Tear

The Eagles’ worst fears have been confirmed. Linebacker Paul Worrilow has been diagnosed with a torn ACL hours after being carted off of the practice field (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). Needless to say, the ACL tear will rule Worrilow out for the 2018 season.

[RELATED: Eagles Cut Mychal Kendricks]

The Eagles signed Worrilow in early April with the hope that he would be a regular member in the team’s middle linebacker rotation.

Worrilow, 27, played on the majority of the Falcons’ snaps from 2013-15, but has since been relegated to backup duty. A former undrafted free agent, Worrilow spent the 2017 campaign with the Lions, where he started eight games but saw only 25% playtime, third-most among Detroit linebackers. Instead, most of his action came on special teams, where Worrilow played more than 60% of the Lions’ snaps. All told, Worrilow managed 20 tackles, one fumble recovery, and one pass defensed during his lone season in the Motor City.

Over the course of one day, the makeup Eagles’ linebacker group has shifted dramatically. In addition to losing Worrilow for the year, the Eagles have also released longtime linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The Eagles are likely to scour the linebacker market as they look for help alongside and behind starters Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks.

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Eagles Release LB Mychal Kendricks

The Eagles releasing linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Kendricks has spent the last six years with the Eagles, but he has been the subject of trade rumors for years. 

[RELATED: Eagles’ Paul Worrilow Done For Season]

Kendricks is expected to draw interest on the open market, though teams will want to take a close look at his ankle after he underwent a minor operation this offseason.

Kendricks’ place on the roster was once again put into flux this year when the defending champs re-signed linebacker Nigel Bradham. Bradham’s deal is worth $40MM over five years, which made Kendricks’ $5.85MM scheduled salary unpalatable. By releasing Kendricks, the Eagles will save $4.4MM in cap space with $3.2MM in dead money.

Kendricks, 28 in September, amassed 73 tackles and two sacks in 15 games in 2017. He also added 16 tackles in the postseason as the Eagles captured their first ever Super Bowl title.

It was arguably the best season of the veteran’s career as he placed as Pro Football Focus’ No. 9 ranked linebacker in the NFL, ahead of notables like NaVorro Bowman, Vontaze Burfict, and Danny Trevathan.

Without Kendricks, the Eagles may try Corey Nelson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and rookie Josh Sweat at strongside linebacker. It also wouldn’t be surprise to see them look at the free agent market for linebacker help, particularly after middle linebacker Paul Worrilow was diagnosed with a torn ACL.

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Le’Veon Bell To Skip OTAs

In a long-expected move, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will reportedly not attend organized team activities which begin on Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes

Again, this is not a shocker. Once Pittsburgh franchised the star running back for a second straight season it was anticipated that he would not be showing up as he seeks a new deal. The two sides have until July to reach a long-term contract.

As of late March, contract talks were on hold, and it’s unclear if the two sides have resumed negotiations since. Bell has already said he has no plans to sit out the 2018 season, but he will likely stay away until the preseason is concluded. In 2017, Bell reportedly turned down a contract offer that included $42MM in the first three years of the deal. If he remains on the franchise tag, Bell could earn $14.5MM in 2018.

In an interview with Fowler in March, Bell said: “We’re not coming to a number we both agree on — they are too low, or I guess they feel I’m too high. I’m playing for strictly my value to the team. That’s what I’m asking. I don’t think I should settle for anything less than what I’m valued at.”

Bell has been among the league’s best backs since entering the NFL in 2013. He has three 1,000-yard rushing campaigns to his name and has also added 312 receptions. The three-time Pro Bowl back and two-time First Team All-Pro will undoubtedly be looking for a top-of-the-line contract that exceeds the $41.25MM over five seasons that Devonta Freeman is currently earning.