Last franchise quarterback: With this iteration of the Browns, there legitimately hasn’t been one.

The Patriots don’t typically spend money on runners, but Lacy’s unimpressive last two seasons in Green Bay have driven his value down. New England has a pair of effective backs under contract in Dion Lewis and James White, but neither is the pile-driving, hard-nosed runner that Lacy is at 235-plus pounds. Lacy is more than just a dynamic ball carrier, though; he caught 77 passes his first two seasons — years in which he also ran for more than 1,100 yards.

Lacy brings injury concerns, but at just 26 years old he could be set to bounce back and regain the form that made him a Pro Bowler as a rookie. He may not fit the Patriots’ typical free agent standard, but if the price is right he could be an upgrade, or an insurance policy, for an aging Blount. With just $3 million invested in tailbacks for 2017, the time could be right for New England to make an investment.

Needless to say, none of those options, nor any of the other 24 quarterbacks who have started games for the Browns over the past 17 seasons, have developed into franchise quarterbacks. Better luck this year, Browns.

Last franchise quarterback: With this iteration of the Browns, there legitimately hasn’t been one. You have to go back to the days before Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore to become the Ravens, to find a franchise quarterback. Cleveland had a pretty good stretch from 1986 to 1995 between Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde, and then, of course, the team moved to Baltimore. Classic Browns.

The good news for the Browns or any other team looking for help at the position is that there are some reasonably decent options likely to be available in free agency. None of them measure up to “franchise” status, but some of them are at least better than Ryan Fitzpatrick.4

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3 things we learned from Borussia Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Benfica

Borussia Dortmund booked their place in the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday, overturning a 1-0 first leg defeat with a 4-0 win at home to Benfica. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completed a hat trick after a Christian Pulisic strike broke the visitors’ stubborn resistance early in the second half, with the final score eventually flattering the victors.

Benfica supporters were left fearing the worst when their first leg lead was nullified within five minutes of kickoff. An Ousmane Dembélé corner was flicked on at the near post by Pulisic and kicked in at the far post by an unmarked Aubameyang. It was a goal of embarrassing simplicity, and it doubtlessly gave Dortmund the early momentum.

But despite seeing plenty of possession in the following few minutes, the hosts struggled to create anything with it. The longer the half wore on, the more Benfica grew in confidence, their superb organization giving rise to slightly more attacking swagger. Their first great chance came midway through the opening period, though Nélson Semedo’s low cross was met by a tame effort by Franco Cervi, and Roman Bürki got down to save.

Any other year, those top line mates would be great for Sheahan. But Larkin and Tatar are both struggling this season, a big reason why the Red Wings are out of the playoff race. When put together, that trio is at 48 percent in Corsi For and just doesn’t generate much offensively.

Sheahan played a lot more with Gustav Nyquist last season with great results: a 54 CF% and 12 points for Sheahan when they played together. He only put up four points and 12 shots on net with limited time alongside Larkin last year … and has just three points on 26 shots with lots of time with Larkin this year. It’s almost like there’s a ceiling there.4

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Utah had great ball movement on offense and Brooklyn’s defense never got the Jazz out of rhythm

George Hill scored a season-high 34 points and the Utah Jazz handled the Brooklyn Nets wire-to-wire in a 112-97 victory Friday night.

The Jazz snapped a two-game losing streak and extended their lead for the No. 4 Western Conference playoff spot by 1 1/2 games over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Utah put the game away with a 19-5 stretch in the third quarter, capped by Rudy Gobert’s alley-oop dunk from Dante Exum.

Utah had great ball movement on offense and Brooklyn’s defense never got the Jazz out of rhythm. On the other end, Quincy Acy scored a season-high 18 points for the Nets and Brook Lopez had 17 — the only Nets to consistently get anything going on the offensive end.

Willis has done a lot this offseason to improve his stock and feels like someone who could land squarely in the middle of the second round, if not higher should he continue to dominate leading up to the draft.

Jabrill Peppers: The ultimate position-less player initially worked out with the linebackers on Sunday and will also work out with the defensive backs on Monday. This was actually a net positive for Peppers, because his athleticism is just different than “normal” linebackers and, certainly, defensive linemen. His 40-yard dash time of 4.46 was the fifth-fastest by a linebacker since 2000, and he just looked substantially quicker than everyone else on the field in drills.

Reddick would have been the fastest linebacker if you move him to LB (where he’ll probably play) and move Jabrill Peppers to safety (where he’ll probably play). Reddick generally looked like an athletic freak and is a perfect example of someone utilizing the opportunity to boost his stock.

On the bright side, Tomsula was having some fun out there and clearly looks like he’s enjoying life more than he was the last time we really saw him, when the 49ers were canning him after just a single year of being the head coach.4

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MLS Week 1 preview and fixtures: Timbers vs. Minnesota opens a great week of games

Check out our big MLS season preview here!

Week 1 of the MLS season has finally arrived. You can expect goals in the season opener, where two teams that have very good attackers and questionable defenses face off. Things get a bit more organized after that — we think.

Here’s everything you need to know about the first week of the season, what to watch for and how to watch it.

If you’re new to MLS, all non-national TV, out of market games can be seen online at MLS Live. It costs $80 for the whole season and features archives, highlights, and a really nice 10-minute extended highlights cut for all of the games. In-market and national TV games become available after 48 hours.

The 40-yard dash is an overblown endeavor, but if there is a player who needs a good one, it is Smith-Schuster. At 6’2 and 220 pounds, Smith-Schuster is obviously a well-built wide receiver. One of his flaws, however, is his speed. He can help himself if he can break into the range of 4.5 seconds. Teams will closely be watching the junior’s footwork as well because he tends to be a little awkward at the top of his routes.

Dupre has first-round talent, but in 2016 he had mid-round production. Until pulling in seven catches for 139 yards, he had just 34 receptions for 454 yards and three touchdowns on the season. It wasn’t much fault of his own, however. As a team last season LSU threw less than 300 passes on the season, and the team’s quarterback play was often spotty. At the combine, Dupre will need a good week showing off his measurables and ability to catch the ball.4

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Ravens attempt to disassemble ESPN report, point by point

The Baltimore Ravens have released statements from various employees refuting the ESPN Outside the Lines report that the team was aware of the security footage that showed Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in an elevator in February.

In the statement released through the team’s website, owner Steve Bisciotti has claimed that ESPN’s sources for the report were members of Rice’s legal team attempting to clear the running back’s name before he makes his case for reinstatement into the NFL. ESPN claims that isn’t true.

The Outside the Lines report claimed that it “found a pattern of misinformation and misdirection employed by the Ravens and the NFL” since Rice’s arrest in February. The report alleges that the team had full knowledge of what occurred within the elevator before a second tape was leaked by TMZ that showed Rice punching his fiancee.

However, under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Tannehill has regressed. Lazor came over this offseason from Chip Kelly’s offensive machine in Philadelphia. But outside of a 33-point Week 1 showing against the lackluster New England Patriots defense, Miami’s offense has sputtered out, producing only 25 points in its last two games combined. Tannehill, a Texas A&M product, is on pace to set career lows in completion percentage (56.5), and yards per pass attempt (5.0). Tannehill’s struggles on deep passes have been a source of considerable frustration for Miami, especially when considering the resources the team has poured into its wide receivers.

Meanwhile, the Bears’ defense is nearly being stripped away completely, and it’s something a better offense is going to exploit sooner or later. Right?

Example: Smith threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on the Jets’ first drive.4

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NFL picks and predictions, Packers vs. Bears 2014: Green Bay getting love on road

The Green Bay Packers (1-2) and the Chicago Bears (2-1) meet this Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, with experts virtually split on who will earn an important victory. Green Bay comes in 1-2 after a loss to the Detroit Lions while the Bears are riding high after consecutive road wins over the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets in primetime.

That the official sent and received confirmation for the deliver is not new — the AP reported it two weeks ago. At the time however, the anonymous official asked the AP not to report that the packaged was addressed directly to Miller.

After the initial report, the league stood by its long held stance that it had never seen the video, but Roger Goodell left the door open on the possibility that it was received and never passed along.

“If there’s a delivery sitting under someone’s desk there will be consequences,” the commissioner told Norah O’Donnell of CBS.

The AP notes that there are two NFL executives named Jeffrey Miller.

The question of who is starting under center is not the only controversy swirling around a 1-2 Dolphins team that has been manhandled in its last two losses against the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins’ defensive players also were reportedly “beyond furious, irate” at the game plan created by defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle in their 34-15 loss to Kansas City in Week 3. Miami gave up 342 yards and five touchdowns to a Chiefs team that entered the game with one of the league’s worst offenses this season.

All this has added up to an uncomfortable situation in Miami, where Philbin remains firmly on the hot seat while the Dolphins try to avoid a sixth straight season without a playoff berth. In fact, Bovada currently has Philbin at 3-to-1 odds to be the first coach fired this season, behind only Raiders head coach Dennis Allen (3-to-2).4

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Detroit won six of nine games to move into the East’s eighth and final playoff berth entering the All-Star break

“As I’ve said before, every name on our roster has come up. That’s his job. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. There hasn’t been a serious discussion about Andre, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been discussions about Andre. The concern, I guess, would be from Andre’s standpoint if nobody had any interest in him.”

Asked by local reporters Tuesday night about dealing with trade speculation for the first time in his career, Drummond said: “That’s just the way it is. Everybody’s name gets thrown around when you’re a high-profile guy. My name happened to be in there. I’m not mad or anything like that. I’m still here to play basketball. Whatever happens happens. I can’t control that.”?

ESPN.com reported last month that Caldwell-Pope — who will be a restricted free agent this summer — had joined Drummond on Detroit’s short list of untouchables. To part with Caldwell-Pope, sources say Detroit would expect at least one future first-round pick and front-line player in return.

Despite the Pistons’ well-chronicled struggles and team tension since Jackson’s return from a 21-game injury absence to start the season, Detroit won six of nine games to move into the East’s eighth and final playoff berth entering the All-Star break. The Pistons play 13 of their final 25 games at home.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who spent 16 seasons in the major leagues as a player, told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that he hopes the league and the union continue to have a dialogue over ways to enhance the entertainment value of the game without making too many drastic changes.

“I think it’s important for us to get together and figure out issues about the pace of the game, and it’s best to get everybody’s opinion,” Counsell said. “We’re starting to understand the answers aren’t easy. Change is hard for all of us. But I do think it’s an issue we should keep on the front burner and be cognizant of. I think we can do better without making [fundamental] changes to the game.”235002299890916151-C201-2

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Talking technique with offensive linemen at the NFL Combine

It was a chaotic day at the NFL Combine on Wednesday, and while general managers and head coaches were getting grilled on the main stage, offensive linemen and tight ends were the real main event. I decided to focus in on the offensive line group in particular and it’s a fairly deep, talented and diverse group of players this year.

Making the jump to the pro level is difficult for any position group, obviously, but when it comes to the trenches, a solid understanding of fundamental techniques of playing offensive line is an absolute must. You’re no longer consistently bigger or stronger than the guy in front of you, and the margin for error becomes razor thin. So, what skills, attributes, or talents do you have that sets yourself apart from other players in the draft? It was a question that fellow media members and I made sure to ask of just about every one of these linemen.

“I think I play at a very low level, and I think I’m athletic and strong,” said South Carolina guard A.J. Cann. “For a guard, I think I’m really athletic. I’m quick, and I think I can basically block anybody if I put my mind to it.”

Cann also talked about another fundamental aspect of guard play picking up slants and twists by defensive linemen. “We are taught that if you are blocking somebody and your man slants out, you have to have your head on a swivel because anybody can be coming at any different angle so you have to be ready to block. A lot of guys [in the SEC] run stunts, especially in pass situations. You have a lot of twist games and a lot of slants on a angle. That’s why your head has to be on a swivel.”

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Don’t mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups.

Ben Roethlisberger would put the Steelers squarely in the first category if not for the noise he made recently about potential retirement. The expectation is that Roethlisberger will play in 2017, but if he’s thinking about the end, the Steelers have to be thinking about what comes next. Big Ben turns 35 in March.

Same with 2015 MVP Cam Newton, whose completion percentage dipped to an abysmal, career-low 52.9 in 2016. Was it a Super Bowl hangover? Or was it closer to what we can expect from Newton going forward? He’ll turn 28 in May, so there’s plenty of time left.

Don’t mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups. You’re liable to catch some heat.

On any given game day, you’ll see the 37-year-old with his headphones on, drowning out the noise as he bobs his head to the beat. He’ll run a few laps around the stadium with a menacing stare on his face, like an assassin fixated on his next victim.

Folks unfamiliar with the Atlanta Falcons likely would mistake Manuel for a player. His players view him as a guy who will cuss anybody out, make no mistake about it. That’s part of the reason why Manuel commands respect as he makes the leap from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, a move made official Friday.

“M, he’s a perfectionist,” free safety Ricardo Allen said of Manuel. “He knows the ins and outs of every player. He does the studying. He has the passion to lead. He’s a natural leader. And people are willing to follow him.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn promoted longtime colleague Marquand Manuel, right, to defensive coordinator.

Manuel is a coach willing to put on cleats, line up opposite his defensive backs and get physical with them off the line. His hands-on approach and aggressive style just might be the added push the Falcons need to elevate an improving defense to yet another level.

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Does he want a return to the Vikings?

The Lions have been trying really hard to turn Stafford into an unstoppable throw-bot, but only have a lot of ultimately wasted draft picks to show for it. Since Stafford was drafted in 2009, the Lions have had a terrible time selecting offensive skill players. Jahvid Best (No. 30 overall, 2010) and Titus Young (No. 44, 2011) are already out of the league for reasons that were mostly out of their control. Ryan Broyles (No. 54, 2012) has only appeared in 21 games in three seasons due to injuries.

The verdict is still out on tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 overall, 2014). Unfortunately, his rookie season looked a lot like that of teammate Brandon Pettigrew (No. 20, 2009), the Lions’ other first-round tight end. Ebron struggled with dropped passes in college, through the pre-draft process, into training camp and during the regular season, dropping four of his 47 targets to finish with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown.

Does he want a return to the Vikings? Does he want a fresh start elsewhere?

Peterson says he is “uneasy” about a Vikings return due to his view of a lack of full support by the franchise during his child abuse case. His father, Nelson, says the possibility of a Vikings restoration exists, but that Peterson’s camp blames Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren for fighting against his son’s return to the field last season.

Owners and executives across several NFL tracks that I spoke with this week are scratching their heads over Peterson’s approach.

Think about that. Consider the titanic emotional upheaval, the mental flips required to stay humble when so high, to rise from ashes when piercingly crushed.

A Federal judge ruled in favor of Peterson on Thursday, overturning his suspension. He turns 30 on March 21.

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