NFL

NFL AM: Jameis Winston’s Legal Team Returns Serve

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Winston Sends Legal Return-Serve

In his latest attempt to repair his public image, Jameis Winston has filed a countersuit against Erica Kinsman, the woman who accused him of raping her back in December 2012. Kinsman filed her own civil lawsuit against Winston last month after the state of Florida declined to prosecute him following a November 2013 investigation.

Winston’s suit claims Kinsman is motivated by greed and that her allegedly false accusations have caused irreparable repair to his personal and professional life. The legal return-serve is more about perception that pay-out; Winston just signed a four-year deal worth $25.35 million, which included a $16.69 million signing bonus. Winston’s main objective appears to be clearing his name as he looks to clean up an image that was tarnished during his final two years in Tallahassee.

Winston’s anti-smear campaign began about a week before the draft, when he claimed the crab legs he was famously charged with stealing were actually given to him by a store employee as a hook-up. Now, he is trying to put a less-damning spin on a different kind of hook-up.

“Mr. Winston brings this action against Ms. Kinsman out of necessity, not malice or ill will,” the court filing said.

The concern is that this legal warfare will become a distraction for Winston as he embarks on his professional career. The No. 1 overall pick opened rookie mini camp with the Buccaneers on Friday, getting his first on-field work with a team he hopes to carry from worst to first.

Winston certainly has plenty of experience playing through distractions. None of the off-the-field stuff ever affected his performance at Florida State, where he helped his team win the National Championship following the 2013 season. He was nearly as good last season, helping the Seminoles to a 13-0 start before they lost to Oregon in the first ever College Football Playoff.

“We do not think it will be a problem for Jameis to remain focused on playing football here. Not at all,” said Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith. “We all have things that we’re dealing with off the football field. But guys know when it’s time for football here, and it’s about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and doing our work here.”

Whether he’s under center or under oath, one thing remains the same — all eyes are on Jameis Winston.

Cincinnati Signs Pryor

Bengals fans have been clamoring for a new quarterback for years; it’s unlikely this is the one they had in mind.

The Bengals announced on Sunday they have signed former Ohio State standout Terrelle Pryor to a one-year deal. He will compete with two other accomplished college quarterbacks — A.J. McCarron and Josh Johnson — for the right to back up Andy Dalton.

The 6’4”, 233-lb. Pryor is an outstanding athlete whose mobility and improvisation skills could add another element to Hue Jackson’s offense. His spotty accuracy is an issue, however, as evidenced by his career completion percentage of 56.3.

Despite concerns with his accuracy and ability to diagnose defenses, he insists a position change is not in his future.

“If I can’t play quarterback, I can’t play football,” he said last week.

Should Pryor get under center on Sundays in Cincinnati, this would represent his best chance for success. He would get to work with one of the league’s best receiving corps, one that includes A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert. Also, a three-headed rushing attack of Pryor, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard could be dominant.

As the competition heats up at quarterback, so does the competition at offensive tackle. Coach Marvin Lewis made sure of that on draft day by spending his first two picks on OTs Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) and Jake Fisher (Oregon). Those two provide both short-term and long-term insurance on the offensive line, as starting tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are both entering contract years.

Cincinnati’s draft  initially enraged the 33-year-old Whitworth, who has spent his entire career with the Bengals and refuses to consider playing for another franchise. However, he quickly changed his tune, even showing up to rookie mini camp to help Cincinnati’s top-two draft picks get acclimated.

“I told (offensive line coach) Paul (Alexander) I’d like to come up here and help them out and just watch and participate,” he said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “So it’s a great opportunity to do that.”

Heuerman Felled by ACL Injury

One day after No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler was lost to a knee injury, Broncos third-round pick Jeff Heuerman went down with the same injury. It was a non-contact injury for Heuerman, who was running in the open field during a special teams drill when the injury occurred. He planted his leg to make a cut and his ACL snapped.

“I feel terrible for Jeff and this is an unfortunate situation,” said coach Gary Kubiak. “Jeff was going to be a big part of our team this year, and he’s still going to be a big part of our team and organization in the future. He’ll get well and be with us as part of this team throughout his rehabilitation.”

Heuerman will have surgery as soon as the swelling in his knee goes down.

An Ohio State product, Heuerman was expected to play a significant role this season. The Broncos are attempting to replace Julius Thomas by committee, which would have meant plenty of playing time for Heuerman, Owen Daniels and Virgil Green.

Heuerman spoke to reporters after Friday’s practice, one day before the injury took place.

“It was nice to finally run around and play some football,” Heuerman said at the time. “It was a long pre-draft process, so it’s nice to finally get out there on the field and play some actual football … I’m here to compete. I’m here to learn. I know those guys have been around for a while. They’ve played a lot of professional football. I’m here to learn from them and do what I can to help the team win. At the end of the day, that’s what matters to me.”

Heuerman missed Ohio State’s first game last year while recovering from offseason foot surgery, but he proved extremely durable after that. He played in the National Championship Game for the Buckeyes last season despite injuring his ankle in Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

Over his final two college seasons, Heuerman caught 43 passes for 673 yards and six touchdowns.

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About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.