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The quarterback landscape was altered this week with the news that AJ McCarron won his grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals and will be an unrestricted free agent. This week’s mailbag question focuses on how McCarron’s sudden availability could impact the New York Jets.

@RichCimini: At the start of free agency last year, the Jets received a call from the Bengals, who offered McCarron in a trade. The Jets gave it some thought but nixed the proposal because they were focused on free agents and didn’t want to surrender compensation in a trade. As everybody knows, they wound up signing Josh McCown — a terrific free-agent move.

New year, same outcome?

This time, the circumstances are different because McCarron is a free man, no strings attached. Based on what we know from last year, I have to think he’d be a fallback option if the Jets fail to sign Kirk Cousins. I don’t know where McCarron falls in the pecking order of Plan B candidates, but I can tell you one thing: Personally, I’d take McCown over McCarron.

You know what you’re getting with McCown; McCarron is a mystery man.

McCarron showed promise in three 2015 starts (a 2-1 record, with four touchdown passes and no interceptions), but I think it’s a stretch to say he’s the next Jimmy Garoppolo. Heck, I’m not even sure Garoppolo deserves to be put on that kind of pedestal. After all, he has had only seven starts, the past five of which were meaningless games. At least McCarron has started a playoff game. Should’ve won it, too, except a couple of his numbskull teammates let him down.

I talked to a scout who believes McCarron’s ceiling is that of a solid game manager. (He has topped the 200-yard mark only once.) Is that worth a three-year, $45 million contract, including $18.5 million guaranteed? That’s what Mike Glennon got last year as a free agent, and you can bet someone will pay McCarron at least that much. As for the Jets, it makes more financial sense to re-up with McCown, who probably will command less than $12 million on a one-year deal.

Neither McCown nor McCarron is a surefire answer to the long-term quarterback problem. Obviously, McCarron has more growth potential because he’ll be only 28, but his arrival wouldn’t preclude the Jets from taking a quarterback with the sixth pick. Remember, the Chicago Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky after paying Glennon. If you’re going to go that route, you might as well stick with the grizzled vet. My hunch is the Jets feel that way, too.



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Minnesota Vikings add depth to wide receiver corps, sign veteran Dede Westbrook, agency says

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EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings made an addition to their receiving corps three days ahead of the start of training camp.

Former Jacksonville receiver Dede Westbrook signed with the Vikings on Sunday, his agency Young Money APAA Sports announced. The length of Westbrook’s contract is for one year, a source told ESPN.

A former fourth-round selection by the Jaguars in 2017, Westbrook will reunite with Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell for a fifth consecutive season. McCardell coached wide outs in Jacksonville from 2017-20.

Westbrook was brought in to Minnesota for a workout on Saturday. The 27-year-old receiver was inactive for five of the first seven games in 2020 while recovering from injuries that limited him dating back to training camp and sustained a season-ending ACL tear in Week 7. He finished the 2020 season having appeared in two games (Weeks 5 and 7) and finished with one catch for four yards.

During the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Westbrook totaled 66 catches each year for at least 660 yards and three touchdowns.

Seeking depth behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings will now have Westbrook compete for the No. 3 receiver role along with veterans Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson and a handful of rookie receivers signed this spring. Westbrook could also potentially be in the mix as a returner given his experience on punt return (42 returns for 398 yards and a touchdown in 2018-19) and limited experience on kickoff return in 2018 and 2020.

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Pittsburgh offensive lineman Trai Turner ready for ‘new era’ on Steelers’ rebuilt offensive line

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PITTSBURGH — Signed just a day after the Pittsburgh Steelers released longtime right guard David DeCastro, Pro Bowl lineman Trai Turner isn’t viewing himself as a direct replacement of DeCastro. Instead, he sees himself as one part of Pittsburgh’s rebuilt offensive line.

“I just look at it like it’s a new era, a different time, different place,” Turner said Sunday. “Everything has an expiration date at some point. DeCastro is a great player, and I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m replacing him, I’m just the new right guard.

“I’m going to be the best Trai Turner I can be. I’ve been that since I was born June 14, 1993. That’s never changed. I’m not trying to emulate or be somebody else. I’m not taking place of nobody else, I’m not replacing anything. I’m coming in, and I’m setting the tone for who I am and for what I do.”

Though he’s only been a Steeler for a month, Turner, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract in June, is the most veteran of the projected starting offensive linemen, with seven seasons under his belt. The four other projected starters on the line — Chukwuma Okorafor, Kendrick Green, Kevin Dotson and Zach Banner — have just 24 combined NFL starts. Only one of those starts was at the position where the player is projected to line up this season.

Even after observing just a handful of camp practices, offensive coordinator Matt Canada saw the immediate benefit of bringing in a veteran offensive lineman like Turner.

“He had a mistake today that I didn’t see on the side. As we worked he came up and knew what it was and said it right away,” Canada said Saturday. “Obviously a veteran like him who’s played as well as he has, I think we’re very fortunate to have him and really like where he’s at. And he’s worked very hard to not have those mistakes, and to be as efficient as he has been in three days is really a real positive for us and him. Big fan of him.”

In the four days of training camp, Turner’s linemates have shifted frequently. Both Okorafor and Dotson have only done individual work, while Banner is slowly working into the rotation as he continues recovering from torn ACL in last year’s season-opener.

Even Green missed a full day of practice, excused Saturday by coach Mike Tomlin for personal reasons. But Turner, who feels healthy after an injury-riddled 2020 season, sees the benefits in the constant turnover this early in camp.

“It’s camp so you’ve got to embrace it,” Turner said. “Not only do I have to get used to new guys, they have to get used to me. I think it’s more of a positive than a negative that more people are in than not because you don’t know who’s available at all times.

“Sometimes you just have to make sure you have continuity with everyone and I think that’s what we’re getting. Just embracing it and hope everyone gets healthy soon and be back to full strength.”

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette says he will consider COVID-19 vaccine despite tweet to contrary

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TAMPA, Fla. — In a tweet that was put out Thursday and later deleted, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette indicated he didn’t want to get vaccinated for COVID-19. But on Sunday he said his decision wasn’t set in stone and he is open to the idea.

“I just don’t know too much about it,” Fournette said after the team’s first training camp practice.

Coach Bruce Arians said that rather than bringing in a specialist to address the team’s concerns about the vaccine as a whole — which Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera did — the team would make doctors available to address individual players’ concerns. Fournette plans to take him up on that.

“I’m going to talk to them, and just see what’s the best decision, for myself and for the team,” Fournette said, adding that if he doesn’t get the vaccine, he’s prepared to undergo the far more restrictive COVID-19 unvaccinated player protocols that significantly impact team and social activities away from football.

“We went over the rules yesterday,” Fournette said. “I know what’s going on, I know what to do and what not to do.”

He said he does not believe that he will be impacted in any way from a football standpoint, despite restrictions like not being able to gather with teammates outside the facility, no access to the sauna or steam room and only cold tub usage when social distancing can be followed. Failure to abide by those rules can result in a fine of $14,650 for each infraction.

“I know a lot of people who got the shot and still got the corona,” Fournette. “Just taking it day-by-day, week-by-week, talking to the doctors, trying to figure out what’s best for myself and the team.”

Fournette said he has felt the support of teammates and coaches.

“Coach [Arians] respects our decision,” Fournette said. “We’re men. He said he’s 100% with us, whatever we want to do. Just don’t get the team sick. That’s about it.”

The Bucs were one of the few teams last year that did not see a significant COVID-19 outbreak, with Arians emphasizing throughout the season that they “needed to beat the virus” and not just their weekly opponents. The start of 2021 training camp had a similar feel, even as restrictions have loosened and fans have been welcomed back to practice.

“It’s always on your mind,” Arians said. “Florida’s a hot spot in the nation. Hillsborough [County] and Pinellas [County] were No. 1 for a while. … Guys still have to be smart. We talked a lot about the delta variant and what it means, what rules you are following if your wristband’s red and your wristband’s yellow.”

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