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Saquon Barkley won’t rule out skipping bowl game

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Some college players wouldn’t even consider skipping a bowl game to protect their NFL draft stock. Others, however, won’t dismiss out of hand the possibility.

Count Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in the latter group.

“I would have a hard time doing it,” Barkley, one of college football’s top returning players, told Sports Illustrated. “But I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”

If Barkley’s remarks come across as lacking certainty, forgive him. After all, there are all kinds of factors, which don’t unveil themselves in May, that would weigh heavily in such a decision. Is the player regarded as a high draft pick? Is the player fully healthy? Is a championship at stake? And how might college teammates react to an early exit? These are questions Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey had to answer for themselves before skipping their bowl games, and their draft outcome (chosen Nos. 4 and 8 overall, respectively) was none the worse for it. This year’s most prominent example of a player whose draft value fell resulting from a bowl injury was Michigan TE Jake Butt, who was a fifth-round selection after tearing an ACL in the Orange Bowl.

According to at least one NFL personnel director, top players like Barkley will now be all the more tempted to make the choice Fournette and McCaffrey made.

Barkley (5-foot-11, 223 pounds) ran for 1,496 yards for the Nittany Lions last year with 18 touchdowns. The school has clocked him at a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash, and he enters his junior year this fall. He’s got a long way to go before even making the decision about whether to turn pro, much less whether to sit out a game before doing so.

But for now, he’s leaving all options open.

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Bears draft Mitchell Trubisky, 49ers take Solomon Thomas after teams swap Nos. 2, 3 picks

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The San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears swapped the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in the NFL draft, and the Bears used the second selection on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina.

In swapping spots with the Bears, the 49ers get Chicago’s third- and fourth-round picks (Nos. 67 and 111) in this draft and a third-rounder in 2018.

With the third pick, the 49ers chose defensive lineman Solomon Thomas of Stanford — the highest pick of a Cardinal player in any draft. He played just two seasons at Stanford.

Trubisky told ESPN after his selection that he had no idea the swap was happening and that he did not get a call to alert him to his selection.

“I didn’t think I was going to get picked until the commish made the call,” he said. “It was crazy. It’s a dream come true. It’s as surreal as it gets.”

Trubisky, who had just 13 starts in college, is the highest drafted quarterback by the Bears in the common draft era and first quarterback taken by the Bears since Rex Grossman in 2003.

The Bears had a clear need at quarterback after the club released Jay Cutler. However, most expected them to wait to address the position until Day 2. Veteran Mike Glennon, who the Bears signed in free agency, is scheduled to earn $16 million guaranteed in 2017.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace announced earlier in the offseason that Glennon is the team’s unquestioned starter, but Glennon’s long-term future in Chicago now looks bleak.

Meanwhile, recently hired 49ers GM John Lynch selected a player from his alma mater and, believe it or not, a former classmate.

For the Niners, Thomas will be expected to instantly improve a defense that finished last in the NFL in 2016 in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and was fifth-worst in the NFL in pressures generated per dropback.

The 49ers have now used their top pick in each of the past three drafts on the defensive line, having selected Arik Armstead in 2015 and DeForest Buckner last year. Thomas has been projected as a left defensive end in coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defensive scheme with the versatility to move to the three-technique defensive tackle spot in passing situations.

Thomas could also theoretically play the right defensive end spot, also known as the “Leo” or “Elephant,” the position where the best pass rusher is expected to line up. At his pro day in March, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he believed Thomas was capable of playing all over the defensive line.

“I believe he can line up probably anywhere inside that he wants,” Shanahan said.

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Niners strongly considering a quarterback with draft’s No. 2 pick

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PHILADELPHIA — With four days to go before they are officially on the clock for the 2017 NFL Draft, the 49ers are still internally debating their No. 2 pick.

While most believe the first pick will be potentially transformative pass-rusher Myles Garrett from Texas A&M, San Francisco can go a number of different ways.

According to several sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking, the 49ers are still strongly considering taking a quarterback second overall. That would be somewhat of a surprise, considering they signed presumptive starter Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in the offseason — and they have Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins potentially as an option for 2018. Taking a quarterback high would likely end any chance at Cousins.

But the team does not yet have a long-term answer at quarterback, and those who know coach Kyle Shanahan well insist North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky would best fit what he does on offense. Trubisky is considered by some to be the top QB in the class, though evaluations at this position differ more greatly than any other spot in this draft.

San Francisco has done extensive homework on each of the top passers. If the 49ers are on the clock and poised to take Trubisky — over players like LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Solomon Thomas — it could create an interesting dilemma.

Several teams are plotting potentially trading up with the Niners or others for a quarterback, gauging the price and weighing options. The Browns are one of those teams, as are others who could draft a QB high.

At this point, Cody Kessler, who the Browns like, would be the starter.

The Browns front office believes Trubisky is the top draftable QB, sources say, but could they dissuade the 49ers from taking him by trading draft capital to get up from No. 12 to No. 2? Could they end up with picks 1 and 2, using the stockpiled selections to make a bold move?

Or does Cleveland choose patience, hoping their quarterback of choice is there for them if they sit tight or trade up just a few picks? At this point, that has not been decided.

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2017 NFL schedule release: Eight teams face long road trips

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The making of the NFL schedule is an imperfect science. And on Thursday morning, Michael North, the NFL’s senior director of broadcast planning and scheduling, was being reminded of just how imperfect it is, as he made calls to the teams to talk about their slates.

“It’s rare that you get to disappoint 32 billionaires and five television networks on the same day,” he said.

This year, the scheduling department churned through more “leaders” — schedules they thought might be the winner — than ever before. The one that was finally settled on emerged late in the process, and final approval only came in the last 48 hours.

As always, there were the requests not to play in Florida in September, or in Green Bay in December, and concerns about the shared parking lots with baseball teams, but at least there was no Pope or Queen (Bey) to contend with this year. Still, the World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo in late December explain why the Bills close with consecutive road games. Marathons in Detroit and Chicago, where the start and finish lines are in the parking lots of the football stadiums, had to be factored in, as did NASCAR races in Chicago, Charlotte, Phoenix and Kansas City. And three stadiums share with Major League Soccer teams — another element to plan around. The most unusual situation arises in California, where the Rams (the Coliseum at USC) and Chargers (the StubHub Center at Cal State-Dominguez Hills) play home games on college campuses, making Monday night and Thursday night games at home a no-no when classes are in session.

There almost certainly will be an extra dose of attention paid to this lineup, after the ratings dip that accompanied the presidential election last year. The politicking for marquee games among network executives is nothing new, but ESPN executive Burke Magnus said at the CAA World Congress of Sports this week that ESPN has been as engaged with the schedule makers as it has ever been, in hopes of swaying the choices for “Monday Night Football.”

There are only so many Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers, Giants and Packers games to go around, though. In the meantime, the league was able to accommodate two unusual requests:

1) The Bengals are celebrating their 50th anniversary season this year. To kick off the festivities, they get to open at home against division-rival Baltimore and they host the first “Thursday Night Football” game of the season against Houston.

2) It was brought to the attention of the scheduling department — perhaps pointedly — that of the last 13 times the Ravens have appeared on “Monday Night Football” in the last 10 years, 12 of those games were on the road. Voila! On Nov. 27, the Ravens will host the Texans on Monday night.

“Everybody is going to have to take a little bit of pain in the schedule,” North said. “Hopefully no team takes too much.”

With that, some observations on 2017:

1) The Kickoff Game …

… is not another Super Bowl rematch. Instead, it is the AFC West champion Chiefs against the Patriots on Sept. 7 in Foxborough. Why not the Falcons, who are also on the Patriots’ home slate this year? Last year, the NFL opted to open the season with Carolina at Denver, a rematch of the Super Bowl 50. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera made his displeasure known and he thought having to spend so much of the offseason revisiting a crushing loss colored the entire 2016 season. But the primary reason the Falcons are not in the opener is the league wanted to showcase the Falcons’ new stadium on Sunday night in Week 2, meaning they wouldn’t put the Falcons in prime time on NBC in consecutive weeks to start the season. (The Falcons visit the Patriots Oct. 22 instead.)

There was another team on the radar for the Patriots’ opener, though. It was the AFC South champion Houston Texans. And just like everybody else, the scheduling department was watching Tony Romo’s movements closely.

“Had Tony Romo signed with Houston, we might have taken a different look at Houston at New England,” North said.

Likewise, had Romo signed with the Broncos, the Cowboys at Broncos game, now slated for the late Sunday afternoon window of Week 2, might have been moved to prime time.

2) No jet lag

When the NFL added regular-season games in London to its schedule beginning in 2007, it offered the lure of a bye week immediately after the trip to assuage teams’ concerns about the toll of midseason, long-distance travel and multiple time-zone changes. But in 2016, the Indianapolis Colts declined the bye immediately after their game in London, electing to take it later in the season, when coaches — and players — often prefer it to refresh for the stretch run. When the Colts beat the Bears at home seven days after the London game, a trend might have been born. This season, the Dolphins, Ravens and Jaguars — three of the four teams that will play in London in the 9:30 a.m. ET slot (the Saints are the fourth) — elected to play a game the week after playing in London. The increased comfort level with some of the international games is a potentially important development as the NFL continues to look abroad for growth.

“If you are going to play in London in the early window, you get back to your home stadium by midnight on Sunday night,” North said. “To know you’re forced into Week 4 bye as opposed to, We’ll be home by midnight? Teams seem to have figured out how to handle London.”

3) Don’t unpack
One of the reasons this schedule was the winner was there is no Week 4 bye. That’s the good news. The bad: Eight teams will have three-game road trips, if you include the Dolphins, who play twice on the road before hosting what is technically a home game in London. There were only two such road trips in last season’s schedule, which is part of what made that one so attractive. Few things make teams more irate than the extended road trips. So, what happened? The ever-increasing complexity of the schedule is to blame.

“All these stadium things, then you layer in international travel, four London games and a Mexico game, that’s 10 teams playing international games, not just where are they the week of the international game, but where are they the week before and week after. We don’t look at the total number of three-game road trips. Technically, you could have 20 three-game road trips, as long as no team has more than one and each of the 20 was justifiable.”

Thankfully, there aren’t 20. But bon voyage to the Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers, Patriots, Bengals, Broncos and Dolphins.

4) Telling stretches

Trying to divine the strength of schedule now seems ridiculous, when we don’t even know some of the starting quarterbacks. But consider this: Both the Broncos and Chargers will play a total of eight games against 2016 playoff teams. That’s the most in the NFL and a rough slate for two teams that will be heading into 2017 with rookie head coaches and, in the case of the Chargers, a new home field. (The Chiefs also play eight games against playoff teams, but at least this isn’t Andy Reid’s first rodeo.) The Broncos and Chargers play each other in Denver on the first Monday night of the season.

After that, the Broncos, whose opponents had a .578 winning percentage (the toughest mark in the league), face one of the season’s most intriguing stretches: home versus the Giants Oct. 15, then at the Chargers, at the Chiefs on Monday night, at the Eagles on the short week and then home versus the Patriots.

For the Patriots, that game in Denver starts their own critical run: at Denver, at Oakland (in Mexico City), home versus Miami, at Buffalo, at Miami on Monday night and then at Pittsburgh on the short week.

Finally, if the Cowboys are to return to the playoffs, the pass defense that ranked 26th last season, better improve in a hurry. They face the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals and Packers in the first five weeks, have the Redskins, Chiefs, Falcons and Eagles in a row at midseason, and close with the Redskins, Giants, Raiders, Seahawks and Eagles.

5) Binge viewing

The schedule makers didn’t take offseason surgeries for Cam Newton or Andrew Luck into consideration. But we did. Here are a few games to circle on your calendar:

» Giants at Cowboys (Week 1): It’s the third straight year these rivals open against each other. Last year saw the debuts of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Giants’ revamped defense.

» Seahawks at Packers (Week 1): This is the fourth straight year they meet. Last year’s 38-10 Packers showcase was the signal that the Aaron Rodgers’ offense was back on track. Will Richard Sherman be with the Seahawks to try to get Green Bay off track again?

» Colts at Rams and Panthers at 49ers (Week 1): To what extent will offseason shoulder surgeries impact the start of the season for Andrew Luck and Cam Newton?

» Falcons at Patriots (Week 7): Just how much psychological damage did that Super Bowl collapse inflict anyway?

» Patriots at Raiders in Mexico City (Week 11): With Marshawn Lynch looming on the roster horizon for the Raiders, this game should provide a good measuring stick for how close the Raiders are to the top of the AFC mountain.

» Patriots at Steelers (Week 15): If this is the AFC Championship Game preview, nobody would be surprised.

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Bucs QB Jameis Winston raves about training with free agent Adrian Peterson

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TAMPA, Fla. — Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston found an unlikely training mate in former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson this offseason. The two worked out together in Houston and Winston raved about Peterson on Monday when he was back in the Bucs facility.

“Being able to be in the presence of whom many consider to be one of the greatest backs, especially of this generation, my generation — to be able to learn [from] and see his work ethic, to see the way he works, man, you really know why he’s great,” Winston said.

“You know why he’s been able to play at a high level in this league for so long, which helps me, because I want to be great,” Winston said. “I want to be considered one of the best players in the league. To see that [after] 10 years, this man is still outworking everybody in his own facility, it’s amazing. It’s very eye-opening to me and motivating.”

Last year, Peterson opened a 35,000-square-foot gym called O Athletik, which features everything from free weights and machines to a steep incline hill, batting cages, an indoor soccer field and an MMA training area. The club is more of a fitness center than an athletic training center, although it caters to both.

Winston chose Houston to gather his receivers a few weeks ago because several of them live in the area. Mike Evans, Derel Walker, Josh Huff, DeSean Jackson, Freddie Martino and Bernard Reedy all joined him, as did his trainer, Tim Grover, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, and Peterson.

It wasn’t just about bringing the group together, though. It was about “getting them around greatness,” Winston said. “AP was able to work with us some. For them to be able to see what greatness is, it helps us, it helps build us, it helps motivate us.”

When asked if he’d like to play with Peterson, a free agent, Winston said, “Absolutely.”

“I don’t know of anyone that wouldn’t,” Winston said. “But that’s out of my league. I can only talk about what I learned from him and how he helped me this offseason.”

The Bucs have some question marks at the running back position due to the suspension of two-time Pro Bowler Doug Martin, who will miss the first three games of the 2017 season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Martin was at One Buc Place on Monday to begin the team’s offseason program, which he is eligible to participate in.

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Adrian Peterson leaves Saints visit without contract

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Adrian Peterson left New Orleans without a contract.

The running back met with the Saints this week and left Tuesday night without a deal, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

Rapoport added that the visit went well and the sides will continue to talk.

The 32-year-old Peterson seems like an ill fit in the Saints’ pass-happy offense. Yet the sides have a mutual interest in pairing. New Orleans is looking for a backup power runner behind Mark Ingram. Peterson is seeking to continue his career chasing a Super Bowl ring.

Taking a role in a backfield that already boasts Ingram would be a signal that no team was willing to hand Peterson a primary role coming off an injury-ravaged 2016 season.

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CB Desmond Trufant agrees to 5-year extension with Falcons

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The Atlanta Falcons have reached a five-year extension with cornerback Desmond Trufant, the team confirmed Saturday morning.

The extension is worth $69 million with approximately $42 million guaranteed, as first reported by The Huffington Post and confirmed by ESPN. No other contract details were immediately available.

Trufant expressed his gratitude in a tweet shortly after the deal was announced.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff said signing Trufant to an extension was the team’s top priority this spring. Trufant, the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft out of Washington, was going into the final year of his rookie contract and was due to make $8,026,000 in 2017 after the Falcons exercised the fifth-year option.

Trufant is among the league’s elite cornerbacks and now will be paid as one. His $42 million guaranteed would put him just below Washington’s Josh Norman ($50 million), Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($48 million) and Cleveland’s Joe Haden ($45.078 million) in terms of guaranteed money.

“We are really happy to be able to get this extension done,” Dimitroff said via statement. “Trufant has proven to be a valuable leader to our team and embodies every trait that Coach Quinn and I are looking for from players that are a part of our brotherhood. Trufant has improved each year, and we believe his best ball is still in front of him. We knew this extension was going to be a component to our offseason plan, and I am excited with the way we have been able to execute our entire plan as we have built our roster.”

The Falcons previously rewarded No. 2 cornerback Robert Alford with a four-year, $38 million extension that included $21 million guaranteed.

Trufant is known for shutting down one side of the field and is one of the team’s best defenders when healthy. Last season he played in nine games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury that required surgery. Falcons coach Dan Quinn recently said Trufant would be sidelined for organized team activities but should be ready to go for training camp.

Trufant has 168 tackles, 48 passes defensed, seven interceptions and three sacks through four seasons.

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Zach Brown, Redskins agree to deal

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The Washington Redskins might have added yet another defensive starter Monday, with the announced signing of free-agent inside linebacker Zach Brown.

The deal is worth up to $4.65 million, according to a source.

Washington’s primary focus lately has been finding help to improve a defense that ranked 32nd on third downs last season. Brown has been considered good at defending the pass. The Redskins return one starting inside linebacker in Mason Foster, and their other starter, Will Compton, is a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his offer sheet.

The Redskins previously added three players on defense expected to start this season: linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee and safety D.J. Swearinger.

Brown, 27, tallied 149 tackles for the Buffalo Bills in his breakout 2016 season, second most in the NFL behind Seattle’s Bobby Wagner (167).

The Bills signed Brown to a one-year, $1.25 million deal last April, but he was elevated to a starting role when 2016 second-round pick Reggie Ragland tore his ACL in training camp. Brown started all 16 games last season and recorded four sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.

Brown, who initially was selected as a third alternate to the Pro Bowl, made his first career appearance in the game after Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower withdrew to prepare for the Super Bowl.

The Titans selected Brown in the second round of the 2012 draft out of North Carolina, though he is a native of Maryland. He started 27 games in his first two seasons in Tennessee before missing all but one game of the 2014 season because of a pectoral injury. He made only five starts in 2015 and did not generate much interest on the 2016 free-agent market before signing with the Bills.

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Aaron Rodgers can have long career like Tom Brady, his coach believes

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It’s all in the legs.

That’s what Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes will determine whether Aaron Rodgers — or any quarterback, for that matter — can do what Tom Brady is talking about: playing well into his 40s. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this week that Brady would like to play six or seven more years.

Rodgers, 33, first indicated last offseason that he started to think of ways to maximize his longevity. That’s when he revamped his diet to, among other things, eliminate cheese and other dairy products. He also said he’s used Brady as a model for the way he eats and trains.

McCarthy said earlier this month at the NFL scouting combine that he wouldn’t be surprised if Rodgers was able to maintain his current level of play like Brady, who won the Super Bowl this past season at age 39. He took that a step further on Wednesday when he was asked at the NFL annual meetings if he could see Rodgers playing well into his 40s.

“I mean mentally and physically, clearly yes; he has that ability,” McCarthy told reporters in Phoenix. “I think there’s no question there. But I think all positions in football are the same. It’s their legs. You watch a player — and it’s no different with quarterbacks — as long as they have their legs, they can compete at that level.”

McCarthy, whose background is as a quarterbacks coach, doesn’t see any reason why Brady can’t keep going.

“I think you can only go by what’s on film and based on his last game, he will accomplish that,” McCarthy said. “I would bet on that. But there’s a lot of factors that go into that. I think you have to give these athletes an incredible amount of credit what they’re doing. With the rest and recovery and nutrition, I think you’re now seeing the decade of what it’s provided. It’s provided for guys to play longer, especially at that position.”

While some players have been retiring early due to long-term health concerns, McCarthy said he believes players have the chance now to play longer than ever due to increased knowledge about nutrition and training.

“If you do have good fortune and good healthy and you’re able to keep playing at a high level, I think these guys will play a lot longer than the generation before them,” McCarthy said.

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Justin Tucker endorses kickoff rule proposal for splitting uprights

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It’s not exactly the rule change that Justin Tucker once suggested, but the Baltimore Ravens’ All-Pro kicker put his support behind the Washington Redskins’ proposal that would reward teams for putting a kickoff over the crossbar.

The proposal, which could be voted on next week by NFL owners, moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the kick sails through the uprights. Touchbacks on kickoffs currently place the ball at the 25-yard line after last year’s rule change.

Not surprisingly, Tucker endorsed this bonus of five yards of field position because it increases the value of kickers.

Tucker and coach John Harbaugh brought up a proposal during last season that would have taken this a step further. They suggested teams get 1 point if kickoffs go over the crossbar.

Last season, Tucker was tied for ninth in the NFL with 52 touchbacks. In November, he was asked to estimate how many kickoffs he would be able to put through the uprights.

“It would be hard to say a specific number,” Tucker said. “I mean, shoot, if I had to throw one out there, maybe one out of every five if the weather is all right and the field’s good. Again, that’s kind of considering all factors, wind, field, etc.”

The reason cited for the Redskins’ proposal is player safety. By giving the opportunity for improved field position, teams presumably would attempt more kicks into the end zone, and that would result in fewer returns, which are considered one of the most dangerous plays in the game because of the high-speed collisions.

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