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The new brain trust of the Green Bay Packers will probably have to make a difficult decision regarding two veteran wide receivers in the next few months.

Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb?

It’s hard to envision both being back in 2018.

Both are entering the final year of their deals and both will count over $12 million on the salary cap next season. Maybe most importantly, it appears both are best suited for playing primarily from the slot – making it even more likely that the Packers will have to pick one or the other.
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Nelson turns 33 in May and is coming off his worst statistical season since he became a full-time starter. He averaged 9.1 yards per catch and finished with nine straight games under 40 yards receiving. Losing Aaron Rodgers hurt his numbers, but it’s clear he’s lost speed and his ability to consistently get open as a perimeter receiver. Maximizing his value might require a full-time move to the slot. It worked for Larry Fitzgerald, and it can work for Nelson, who will count $12.5 million on the cap in 2018.

Cobb is much younger — he turns 28 in August — but his last three years have been underwhelming. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, Cobb has averaged 10.2 yards per catch, 4.7 catches per game and 47.5 receiving yards per game. That’s not quite the return on investment the Packers were hoping when he returned to Green Bay on a four-year, $40 million deal after his impressive 2014 season. At 5-foot-10, Cobb operates almost solely from the slot. He’s scheduled to take up $12.7 million on the cap next season.

New general manager Brian Gutekunst, cap manager Russ Ball and coach Mike McCarthy will have to figure out what to do with the two receivers for 2018.

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Nelson was productive in the slot down the stretch in 2016 and remains a top target in the red zone when Rodgers is healthy. However, he offered little after the catch in 2017, and his age suggests he’s only going to get easier to cover and easier to bring down in future years, cutting into his potential value in the slot.

Cobb is younger than Nelson by several years, but he’s played a lot of football and absorbed plenty of big hits over his first seven seasons. He’s an old 27. Then again, his quickness and ability to make tacklers miss fit the traditional mold of a slot receiver. Good things often happen when the ball is consistently finding No. 18.

It’s possible Nelson or Cobb could agree to restructure and make the Packers more comfortable with keeping the other at his current price. Maybe both receivers are willing to restructure to stay with Rodgers. Reworking Nelson’s deal would seem to be the more likely option, as Cobb is younger and likely capable of securing another decent contract on the open market.

In the end, McCarthy has to determine the better fit for his offense, Ball will crunch the numbers for the salary cap, and Gutekunst will make the final call. More than likely, the result will be one receiver taking a pay cut and the other finding a new home.

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If you’ve watched Dre Butler play football and basketball this year, you’d probably assume that the he would have a tough decision to make.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior is every bit as graceful and light on his feet on the basketball court as he is aggressive and Ferocious in a three-point stance on the gridiron. And he had the scholarship offers from both sports to prove it.

But when it came down to it, Butler says the choice wasn’t difficult at all. He picked football, namely, Chattanooga-Tennessee. And for the power forward-slash-defensive end, it all came down to him analyzing his own upside.

“At first when I started, it was a tough decision,” Butler said. “But as my recruitment started picking up, things went more toward football. I love basketball and I love football. I don’t have a favorite sport. But with football, I know I have the chance to extend my career the furthest.”

Understandable. But why UTC?

“I’ve been on their radar for a long time,” he said. “They were my third offer, but ever since they offered, they’ve been contacting me, calling me every day. Texting me and seeing how I’m doing. Maybe three or four times a week. They’ve just been proving that they’re on my side.”

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Butler chose the Mocs over offers from Tennessee State and East Tennessee State, as well as basketball offers from Presbyterian and Augusta University. A power for

ward on the third-ranked Newton basketball team, Butler missed Saturday’s game against Morgan County because he was on an official visit in Chattanooga, shoring up his football future.

“It was tough to be away from my teammates,” Butler said. “Very tough. I had people calling me and showing me the game and how they pulled through. I’m proud of my boys.”
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And if the Twitter-expressed sentiments of coming from Newton’s official team Twitter page and are any indication, Rams boys basketball coach Rick Rasmussen and the rest of the team is proud of him as well.

“Congrats to Dre Butler on his verbal commitment,” the tweet said. “Found a home at UTC. Had Bball offers from DI Presbyterian and Augusta and several other (football) offers. Proud of this young man. Bright future.”

Butler’s commitment is particularly satisfying, given where he and his athletic career were around this time last year. Butler was nursing a knee injury that sidelined him from both sports he loved. In previous interviews, he discussed the difficulty of trying to navigate through not being able to showcase his talents on the field or the court.

Of course, in his absence from both sports, there was an absence of recruiting attention. But a fully healthy senior season caused his stock to rise quickly.

Butler led Newton’s defense — one with 3-star prospect and Clemson signee Darnell Jefferies — with 20 tackles for losses from his defensive end spot in 2017. He also led the team with eight quarterback sacks and over 50 total stops.

He’ll play outside linebacker at UTC, a position Butler says isn’t much different from what he’s used to.

“It’s really not a position change,” Butler said. “Defensive end is sort of like an outside backer if you’re not playing a three-technique.”

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Butler certainly isn’t playing with his future with his decision to pursue football in college instead of hoops.

“This is how I felt,” he said. “I’m a good basketball player. I can score the rock. But on the football field, with my height and size, I feel like I can be unstoppable, really. I feel I can do anything. I mean at 6-foot-5, playing power forward, I mean that’s good for high school, but probably not so much for college. I’d probably play basketball for four years in college and be done and never play beyond that. But with football, I can work my way into going to the league. I’m not just planning to go play football for four years in college and be done.”

Butler said he plans to major in sports medicine at UTC, and he’s excited to go. He called Chattanooga “a beautiful city with so many things to do,” and he fell in love with the campus on his visit.

But first thing’s first. A matter of helping his highly ranked Newton basketball make another deep run in the state tournament.

“Now I can focus on basketball and us going to win a championship,” Butler said.

Rams lineman Jordan Reed chooses Davidson

Butler wasn’t the only Newton football standout to secure his college destination. Offensive lineman Jordan Reed also took advantage of his weekend official visit and pledged his services to Davidson College just outside of Charlotte, NC.

Reed, who plans to major in physics and says that becoming an architectural engineer would “be a dream job for me,” said his affinity for Davidson begins in the classroom.

“It started off for me when I read about Davidson’s academics,” Reed said. “When I saw how good of a program they had and how good of a school they are, it impressed me. And then I got on campus and met my future teammates and coaches, and the new coaching staff they have.

“They’re all really cool guys. The people on campus are the nicest I’ve ever met. The whole time I was there, complete strangers are coming up to you and having nothing but positive things to say about the school.”

Reed, a student with a 3.8 grade point average at Newton, chose Davidson over Tuskegee, Jacksonville University, Lenoir Rhine and Grambling State. He spent time on both the Rams’ offensive and defensive lines, collecting 13 total tackles and three for losses with a quarterback sack through seven games last season.

He says that there will certainly be time to continue improving himself as a football player. But his current focus is finishing the wrestling season and strengthening his academic resume.

“I’m definitely going to try and focus on improving my grades,” he said. “I finished midyear with pretty good grades, but I want to get some of those borderline ‘As’ a little higher.”

Women’s New Orleans Saints Kenny Vaccaro Nike Black Game Jersey

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The New Orleans Saints will go the rest of the regular season without a key member of the defensive secondary.

Starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro is heading to injured reserve with groin and wrist injuries, a source familiar with the situation confirmed Thursday afternoon.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network was the first to report the news.
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Rapoport adds Vaccaro has been dealing with a wrist injury, which will require surgery along with the groin injury.

When Vaccaro suffered the wrist injury is unclear, as the Saints did not list him on on Wednesday’s injury report, signaling he put in a full practice.

He also played on all 74 defensive snaps in Week 15 against the New York Jets.

Vaccaro originally suffered the groin injury in Week 9 and left the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first half, and he did not play in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills and Week 11 against Washington.

With Vaccaro now out of the lineup, the Saints are likely to lean heavily on second-year pro Vonn Bell to man the strong safety position alongside rookie free safety Marcus Williams.

The Saints also have safeties Chris Banjo and Rafael Bush on the active 53-man roster.

To bolster depth in the secondary, the Saints signed cornerback Sterling Moore, who can contribute in the team’s nickel package.

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The 6-foot, 214-pound Vaccaro finishes the season appearing in 12 games with 12 starts, totaling 59 tackles (47 solo), 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, seven passes defensed, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown.

Vaccaro, whom the Saints selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, is in the final year of his contract.

The New Orleans Saints’ improved defense suffered a blow.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported safety Kenny Vaccaro is headed to injured reserve, according to a source informed of the decision. Vaccaro has been playing with an adductor muscle (groin) completely torn off the bone and an injured wrist. He’ll undergo surgery on both, per Rapoport.

The 26-year-old safety started 12 games this season, compiling 60 tackles, seven passes defended, three interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Vaccaro missed two games earlier in the season due to the groin injury.

The Saints are deep at safety with Vonn Bell and rookie Marcus Williams. Chris Banjo and Rafael Bush are also options to rotate at the position. Corner P.J. Williams could be in line for more snaps against three-receiver sets, where Vaccaro often dropped to cover the slot.

Heading into free agency, Vaccaro had an up-and-down season while battling through injury. His versatility allowed the Saints flexibility, and for stretches he made plays — especially against the run — earning a career-high three interceptions. At other times, the safety played poorly against the pass this season and was benched in a Week 2 loss versus the Patriots. His play dropped off noticeably after the groin injury struck in early November. Pro Football Focus graded Vaccaro their 117th rated safety this season, lowest among qualifying players.

Even though Vaccaro struggled while battling through injury, his absence will harm the Saints’ best defense in memory. Since Week 3, New Orleans has allowed 18.1 points per game, 297.8 total yards per game, and an opposing passer rating of 69.4.

Injuries, however, have begun to pile up for the Super Bowl hopefuls. The Saints already placed staring defenders Alex Okafor, A.J. Klein, and Alex Anzalone on IR this season.

The Saints currently sit tied atop the NFC South, with tilts against the Falcons and Panthers to close out the season.

Women’s Denver Broncos Von Miller Nike Navy Blue Game Jersey

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Almost immediately after the Los Angeles Chargers throttled the Denver Broncos, the questions became uncomfortable. Will Trevor Siemian remain the starter? How will the team improve offensively?

In that press conference after the Broncos were shut out for the first time since 1992, Siemian looked like a prize fighter who had taken a 10-count. His nose was bloodied cheap nfl jerseys and swollen. He appeared determined, but lost in a daze after absorbing hits from Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

What fans hoped was an aberration in an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants — a game that later prompted general manager John Elway to call his team ‘soft’ — became a pattern.

The Broncos stepped on a slippery slope and plummeted into a death spiral, losing eight straight games, and going 1-7 on the road. Watching the offense was confusing, not just for fans, but coach Vance Joseph. As the song “Rockstar” puts it eloquently: why do you have a 12-car garage if you only have six cars? That sums up my thoughts on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s reliance on the three-wide set. All the Broncos had to do was use it, then step back and let the sacks, interceptions and fumbles begin. It led to the midseason firing of McCoy, whose reluctance to change or work in collaboration with Joseph left the Broncos straying from a run-first attack.

It was one of many low points. There were, of course, some memorable performances. My look back:

Most Valuable Player: OLB Von Miller

Honorable mention: CB Chris Harris Jr.

The quick glance at Miller’s stats reveals almost none of his excellence. He finished with 10 sacks, and zero in his last three games. However, he ranked as the most-dominant edge defender in quarterback pressures by Pro Football Focus. Opponents centered their game plan on him. They doubled him, chipped him, and directed quarterbacks to release the ball quickly to neutralize him. Not having a consistent force on the other side hurt Miller. Shaquil Barrett played well in spurts, but Shane Ray’s Pro Bowl-caliber season never materialized because of a preseason left wrist injury. Notably, Miller developed into a true leader, holding teammates accountable, while remaining positive throughout.

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Chris Harris’ versatility helps make the defense work. Like Harris himself, I prefer he moves outside and is no longer relegated to slot duty. However, that will be impossible if the team trades Aqib Talib (Again, I would love to see Talib stay on a restructured contract and eventually retire as a Bronco).

Most Valuable Offensive Player: RB C.J. Anderson
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Honorable mention: C Matt Paradis

Had the Broncos committed to the run, limiting the exposure of their quarterbacks, it’s fair to wonder if they would have been competitive. Following an offseason cycling routine, Anderson showed newfound durability to match his typical passion and grit. He produced his first 1,000-yard season, finishing with 1,007 yards, averaging 4.1 per clip. Anderson faces an uncertain future in Denver. He is scheduled to make $4.5 million next season. That won’t happen. Could he return on a new deal? Perhaps. But he has zero dead money, so Denver could simply move on. Regardless, Anderson showed well, and will help somebody, somewhere next season.

Paradis has played every snap the past three seasons. This offseason will be the first in seven years where Paradis can train without worrying about his surgically-repaired hips.

Biggest Surprise: NT Domata Peko

Honorable mention: DE Adam Gotsis

Peko, 33, appeared done in his last season in Cincinnati. He told me a change in scheme contributed to his slide, and insisted he had plenty left. He was right. Peko brought energy, attitude and professionalism. The Broncos improved their run defense dramatically with Peko at the nose, allowing 89.4 yards on the ground per game compared to 130.3 last season. Peko is a keeper as the Broncos try to regain their winning culture.

Gotsis, meanwhile, took a huge step forward, adding bulk and strength. The next step is developing an inside pass rush, which has been sorely lacking since Malik Jackson’s departure in free agency two years ago.

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Least Valuable Player: QBs Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch

Honorable mention: Special teams

Listen, everyone wants to be Cy Young. Some are Sigh Young. No one is blameless in the Broncos’ 5-11 season, but the quarterback play is impossible not to single out. The inefficiency was stunning, and related in part to McCoy’s expansive playbook that was more suited for Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. The Broncos ranked 25th in touchdown passes with 19, and 31st in interceptions with 22. The quarterbacks were sacked 52 times. Siemian regressed in the new offense, and ended the season with a second straight left shoulder surgery. Brock Osweiler went 0-4 as a starter, but prevented a winless road record with a terrific relief outing against the Colts. Paxton Lynch never progressed as hoped in his sophomore season, undone by injuries and his inability to beat out Siemian in training camp.

The only reason special teams did not win the honor is because quarterback is a more important element. Brock Olivo bombed as a first-time coordinator as the team made every type of mistake imaginable.

Biggest Disappointment: The 2017 draft class

Honorable mention: Tight end Jeff Heuerman

Only rookie Garett Bolles contributed, and he endured an uneven season because of his inexperience and the endless carousel of quarterbacks. Where to start? Defensive end DeMarcus Walker dropped to 242 pounds because of a position switch after Ray’s injury and an illness. He never regained traction and was frequently inactive because he had no role on special teams. Receiver Carlos Henderson appeared in danger of being inactive all season before suffering a thumb injury. Cornerback Brendan Langley, a project who had never played a full season of defense until this year, had a bad day at Oakland, and eventually lost his spot on the depth chart to Marcus Rios.

Jake Butt, an All-American tight end at Michigan, sat out the season healing from his second ACL surgery. Isaiah McKenzie muffed six punts, never rewarding the odd faith the coaching staff showed despite horrific results. Running back De’Angelo Henderson remained buried on the depth chart until the season finale when he scored a touchdown on a screen pass (where was that play all season to Jamaal Charles?). And quarterback Chad Kelly, who healed multiple injuries and dropped from 236 pounds to 212 pounds, sat out the entire year. He remains an intriguing prospect. He might be in the mix depending how the search for a starter plays out.

This was supposed to be Heuerman’s breakthrough season. It never materialized (nine catches for 142 yards), leaving the Broncos to count on Butt and the addition of a free agent to fortify the position this offseason.

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It was a play Steve McNair, the Tennessee Titans’ last true franchise quarterback, would have made.

Marcus Mariota’s defining franchise quarterback moment may have been the 13-yard run on a broken third-and-5 play Sunday against Jacksonville to essentially clinch a playoff berth. His nasty stiff-arm that drove Jaguars safety Barry Church into the ground got all the love, but there was much more to take out of his performance than that highlight play.

“Heisman reminisce,” cornerback Logan Ryan said. “The guy is a franchise QB. Put the ball in his hands and he’ll do that. That’s what it’s about — you can’t always draw it up. It’s not always X’s and O’s. Everybody thinks we need to run more of this, do more of that. Sometimes it’s guys going out there and making plays.”

Mariota’s fourth quarter — when he had 37 more huge rushing yards and gained a first down on all four of his carries — likely would have impressed the late Titans legend, too. It was full of Mariota making plays late in a game in which his stats didn’t tell the full story.

Perhaps unintentionally, Mariota may have provided the blueprint for the Titans to pull off a postseason upset in Kansas City this weekend. Tennessee’s struggling offense hasn’t found the magic formula and it probably won’t by Saturday’s wild-card game. They need Mariota to lead them by making plays his way.

“Sometimes you gotta play backyard football. Sometimes you gotta overcome coaching,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “That’s what makes some players great when they know how to do that.”

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Walker said there’s a difference between preparation and execution. He puts the onus on his fellow offensive players to be playmakers rather than strictly following the call and scheme that have often put them in bad and predictable situations. That starts with Mariota, the Titans’ leader.
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“Overcoming coaching” is what makes Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson so special sometimes. The game-defining plays don’t have to be schemed. It’s still a kid’s game played by grown men with great athleticism.

Mariota finished with 10 carries for 60 yards in Sunday’s 15-10 victory, his most carries and rushing yards since Week 6 of the 2016 season. It was a combination of called runs and scrambles, but the latter was particularly effective. Mariota converted a first down on 37 percent of his rush attempts, the highest rate in his three NFL seasons.

“That’s old Marcus, before the injury. That’s him,” defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said of the broken right leg Mariota suffered on Christmas Eve 2016. “This is the Marcus I been waiting to see — him using them legs and making things happen. We need to see that more out of him going forward.”

The Titans have often schemed in the regular season to protect Mariota, from injury and sometimes himself. Mariota has also looked reluctant to run at times. But the playoffs mean there may need to be more risk, so to speak, to get a greater reward.

“Every man needs to do whatever he can, whatever it takes, to make this thing go,” Mularkey said.

Mariota is still the Titans’ best playmaker and weapon. That could mean more calls for read-option plays and no-huddle offense, as well as more audibles and scrambles from Mariota when the defense shows an unfavorable look.

“It was just me being me. This is the time in the season where you just gotta lay it all on the line,” said Mariota, who is undergoing his worst statistical season as a pro passer mainly due to his career-high 15 interceptions and career-low 13 passing touchdowns. His ability has a runner and freelancer hasn’t seen the same regression, though.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Chiefs as more than a touchdown favorite over the Titans, but Tennessee can win Saturday if backyard Mariota takes over.