ORLANDO, Fla. >> The Latest on the NFL Meetings:
Texans coach Bill O’Brien is confident that J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson will have successful comebacks from major injuries.
Watt, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, missed all but five games with a broken left leg. Watson was a rookie sensation until he tore up his right knee in practice in midseason.
Houston has little chance of being a serious contender in the AFC South without them; it went 4-12 last season.
“J.J.’s doing really well. J.J. has a great attitude,” O’Brien said Tuesday at the NFL meetings. “He’s a very, very positive guy. He’s been in a great mood the whole offseason about where he’s at. Obviously working very hard. Just like I’ve always said about J.J., I would just tell you that watching him and seeing him in the building every day, I would never bet against J.J. Watt.
“J.J. is a generational player in this league and he’ll be back. He’s going to be back and he’ll be back to full strength and I just watch the way he is, that’s why I feel so good about him. He’s very positive about where he’s at. He knows exactly what he needs to do to get back.”
O’Brien is hoping Watson will be available for limited work later this spring.
“I know he’s ahead of schedule. He’s been in there every day, working hard. I believe that he feels real good about where he is right now and then we’ll just take it one day at a time during the (nine-week) offseason program. … The first two weeks, you’re not really doing anything on the field. The next three weeks, you can do a little bit on the field and then the last four weeks is where you’ve really got to see, because that’s when you’re practicing, which is OTAs with no pads on.
“Maybe he would be able to do some things there. But we’re not in a rush on that, but I do think there’s going to be some things he can do throwing-wise, probably not in team drills, but maybe he can do some seven on seven, some of our passing drills to continue to work on the timing with the receivers, especially.”
Rams coach Sean McVay confirms that newly signed Ndamukong Suh will play nose tackle in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 system.
Los Angeles signed Suh to a one-year deal Monday. The five-time Pro Bowl pick joins three-time All-Pro Aaron Donald — the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year — along a fearsome front line.
“The one thing you feel so good about Aaron Donald is he said, ‘Hey the guy’s a great football player. If he can help us win, let’s get him on board,’” McVay said. “The mutual respect that exists between those two players was imperative and really paramount to even pursue this in the first place.”
The 31-year-old Suh has never played in a 3-4 alignment during his NFL career and is likely to face fewer double teams as a pass rusher while lining up next to Donald.
The Rams have revamped their defense since losing to Atlanta in the NFC wild-card game. They also added cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.
NFL owners approved rules changes defining what is a catch on Tuesday, hoping to eliminate much of the controversy and confusion that plagued the league in recent years.
In simplifying the language of the rule, as recommended by the competition committee, the new standards require three elements:
>> Having control of the ball
>> Getting two feet down or another body part
>> Making a football move, such as taking a third step or extending the ball
The committee cited overturned receptions by tight ends Jesse James of the Steelers and Zach Miller of the Bears last season, and went back to similar negated catches by Dez Bryant of the Cowboys and Calvin Johnson of the Lions in previous seasons.
Also approved was making permanent spotting the ball at the 25-yard line after a touchback on a kickoff; allowing players on injured reserve to be traded; and authorizing a designated member of the officiating department to instruct on-field game officials to eject a player for a flagrant non-football act when a foul for that act is called on the field.
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott says the incident that led to receiver Zay Jones’ arrest was “unfortunate” and “disappointing.”
Jones was arrested in Los Angeles following a naked, bloody argument with his brother last week. Prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against Jones because of “insufficient evidence.”
“Look, at the end of the day, it’s an unfortunate situation and somewhat disappointing,” McDermott said Tuesday at the NFL meetings. “But it’s a situation to me that we can all take something from and learn from it.”
It’s possible Jones could face league discipline, but McDermott says the team does not “foresee” disciplining him internally.
Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, had 27 catches for 316 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.
Hue Jackson sure smiles a lot for a guy coming off an 0-16 season.
The Browns coach might have good reason to wear the grin he sported at the NFL meetings. His team has been very active in free agency, improving the worst roster in football. He has a veteran starting quarterback after trading with Buffalo for Tyrod Taylor.
And with the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in next month’s draft, Cleveland is likely to land a talented quarterback to groom. Jackson is certain there is a franchise QB in this crop, though he was naturally coy about identifying which prospect he believes fits the bill.
“I think the guy’s in there. I really do,” Jackson said. “We’re open and very in the process and haven’t made that decision yet, and we’re working towards it. But I don’t think any of those things are out of the (realm of) possibility. We’ve just got to keep working and keep talking.”
The early consensus has been that Southern California’s Sam Darnold is the top candidate, with UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield right in the mix. Other than insisting again that Taylor is his starter, Jackson was completely noncommittal on those QB prospects.
“Obviously, I’ve had these conversations with all these guys. And they know,” Jackson said of a rookie quarterback being a backup to Taylor at the outset. “I mean, we laid it out pretty clearly, what the expectations would be and what we’re trying to accomplish here. And they, to a man, they all get it.
“They understand that this opportunity, as bad as they want it, could be a little overwhelming, and that there’s things they need to learn on an every-day basis before they’re ready to take it on. So I feel good about the four guys we met with that they understand where we are and what we’re trying to do.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson says he wants veteran return specialist Darren Sproles back for another season.
Sproles, who turns 35 in June, missed Philadelphia’s Super Bowl run after tearing his left ACL and breaking his forearm on the same play in Week 3. He’s an unrestricted free agent but doesn’t plan to retire after considering it before the 2017 season.
“He wants to still play. I want him to play, and I want him to be an Eagle,” Pederson said. “I know the way he works, the way he trains, the way he gets himself prepared. If and when he decides to sign and come back, we’re ready for him.”
Sproles has 19,155 all-purpose yards in his career, which is eighth in NFL history. He is 35 yards behind Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for sixth (19,190). Sproles has 3,366 yards rushing, 4,656 yards receiving, and 11,142 return yards to go with 59 career touchdowns in 13 seasons.
The Eagles lost running back LeGarrette Blount to Detroit and tight end Trey Burton to Chicago in free agency. They traded wide receiver Torrey Smith to Carolina and released backup end Brent Celek, though Pederson wouldn’t rule out bringing the veteran back.
Bill Belichick wasn’t going to talk about Tom Brady twice in three days.
Belichick arrived almost 30 minutes late for the coaches’ breakfast and had reporters scrambling after deciding he wanted to stand for interviews instead of sit at a table like the other 31 coaches.
When Brady’s name came up, he said: “Yeah, I already covered that the other day. It’s on every internet site. I’m sure we can pull it up for you.”
Brady has said he plans to keep playing, but his “Tom vs. Time” documentary series had an ominous ending.
“It’s a big commitment, laying here three days after the game and getting my Achilles worked on and my thumb,” Brady said after the Patriots lost to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. “You go, ‘What are we doing this for?’ You know? ‘What are we doing this for, who are we doing this for, why are we doing this?’ You gotta have answers to those questions. And they have to be with a lot of conviction. You know, when you lose your conviction then you probably should be doing something else.”
On Sunday, Belichick expressed no concern that Brady will return for his 19th season.
“I’ve had direct conversations with Tom, many times, obviously, through a long period of time,” Belichick told Boston reporters. “I’ll rely on those conversations that I have with him directly rather than something else. Tom and I have always had a good line of communication. We’ve always been able to talk directly to each other. I don’t see that changing. So I’ll rely on those instead of anything else.”
The 40-year-old Brady is signed for two more years. Belichick, of course, wouldn’t address his contract.
“As you know, I am not going to talk about contracts and personal situations,” he said. “We’ll just let that one go, along with all the other contract questions.”
Now that Jimmy Garoppolo is in San Francisco, the Patriots are expected to draft a quarterback, but Belichick wouldn’t commit to it.
“I think we’ll always try and do what is best for the team,” he said. “Whatever those opportunities are, we’ll do the best we can with them.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson says Carson Wentz doesn’t have to play in the preseason to start Week 1 for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Wentz is recovering from a torn left ACL that forced him to watch from the sideline as backup Nick Foles led Philadelphia to its first NFL title since 1960.
“I don’t need him in preseason,” Pederson said. “I need him in Week 1. … I’m very encouraged with where he’s at. I’m not rushing him. He’s working extremely hard. No timetable, make sure he’s 100 percent. But knowing Carson, he’s going to try to get out there sooner than later. Be smart with it, make good decisions.”
Pederson isn’t concerned about Foles going back to a backup role after a spectacular playoff run. Foles is entering the final season of a two-year contract and the Eagles listened to trade offers but couldn’t get their asking price.
“I know Nick and his mentality, and I think he’s fine with that,” Pederson said. “He understands it’s Carson’s team. He knew that last year.”
The NFC South was the league’s best division last season, with three teams making the playoffs. Carolina coach Ron Rivera points to one position for that success.
“If you believe you need franchise quarterbacks, and you do, the division has them,” Rivera said. He cited the Panthers’ Cam Newton as well as Drew Brees in New Orleans, Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay.
“Couple them with players who are able to bring out their talents on the field, it creates a very competitive group of guys.”
Indeed, Brees is an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer and has won a Super Bowl. Newton and Ryan have gotten there in the last three seasons, but lost. Winston, plagued by injuries, took a step back last year, as did the entire Buccaneers team. But the top overall selection in the 2015 draft is considered by many a rising star.
For Rivera, there’s extra comfort in knowing that Newton is signed to a long-term deal. Brees recently got a new two-year contract worth $50 million, with $27 million guaranteed, a hefty price for a 39-year-old, but he shows no signs of slowing down.
Ryan is in the midst of negotiations on a new contract that will exceed the $15 million Newton is making in 2018, the third season of a five-year agreement.
“Cam earned the deal back then,” Rivera said, “and he has been playing up to what we expect from him. You’ll always see the value of that position going up. It helps to have that position stabilized so you can do other things.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says the team didn’t add Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson to replace Dez Bryant.
“We love Dez Bryant,” Garrett said. “Dez has been a great player for us for a long time. Any speculation about his contract or anything like that is irrelevant to the signings we made.”
Bryant has a base salary of $12.5 million this season and counts $16.5 million against the cap. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver had 69 catches for 838 yards and six touchdowns while playing all 16 games in 2017. He hasn’t had 1,000 yards receiving since he was an All-Pro in 2014.
The Cowboys could be looking to give him a pay cut. Hurns and Thompson give them more options.
Hurns had 189 receptions for 2,669 yards and 21 TDs in four seasons in Jacksonville. He caught just 74 passes for 961 yards and five scores the past two years while dealing with a sports hernia in 2016 and a high ankle sprain in 2017.
Thompson has 77 catches for 1,032 yards and four touchdowns in five seasons for Baltimore, Buffalo and Chicago.
The 29-year-old Bryant has been one of the league’s elite receivers for most of his eight seasons in Dallas.
“The offseason program starts in the middle of April and we anticipate Dez and everybody else being there,” Garrett said. “Any speculation about his contract doesn’t apply to the football part of Dez Bryant. He’s been a great player and we anticipate having great competition at the receiver position and Dez being a part of it.”
Jon Gruden would like to see instant replay for officiating disappear. So would Pete Carroll.
The two Super Bowl-winning coaches aren’t fans of video reviews, particularly the slow-motion replays. They also recognize that replay isn’t going away.
“I don’t like instant replay,” Carroll said. “I like the game played on the field. The scrutiny of the officials has become so intense, they don’t call the game like they used to, I feel. That didn’t mean I didn’t argue with them any more or any less.
“There are so many reasons why replay has been a positive factor in our game, but I don’t like it,” the Seahawks coach added.
Gruden returned to coaching this year, with the Raiders, after working as the ESPN analyst on Monday night games. So replay was a beneficial tool for him as an announcer, giving him an opportunity to break down the action even more insightfully.
As a coach, he would have no qualms if it was eliminated.
“Let the naked eye make the call,” Gruden said. “Eliminate instant replay and let the officials call the game.
“Slow motion is the biggest problem with replay. Throw slo-mo out and get back to common sense.”