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NFL notebook: Patriots honored by Obama at White House

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The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, minus quarterback Tom Brady, were honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.

Amid some jokes about deflated balls, coach Bill Belichick’s wardrobe and Rob Gronkowski, the president congratulated the Patriots for their sustained success and for their thrilling 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in February.

“The Patriots organization is as good an organization as there has ever been in professional sports,” Obama said, referencing the Patriots’ four Super Bowl titles under Belichick and owner Bob Kraft. “To be able to maintain that kind of consistent excellence is a rare thing in any field, including on the football field. It’s a testament to ownership; it’s a testament to a Hall of Fame coach.

“I’m particularly grateful that Coach decided to dress up today,” Obama joked about Belichick, whose game-day attire usually consists of a hoodie with cutoff sleeves. “We had some scissors if he wanted to cut the sleeves off. Formal hoodies are allowed.”

Obama then got in his obligatory jab over the Patriots’ underinflated-ball controversy: “I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events; but, with Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat.”

The president credited the Patriots for overcoming the distractions of that controversy as they prepared for the Super Bowl.

He mentioned a few Patriots by name, saying he told hard-partying tight end Rob Gronkowski “to keep his shirt on.”

He finished with mention of Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception, saying with his best New England accent, “I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm has earned a lifetime of free drinks in every bah in Bahston.”

—The Tennessee Titans will pick up the fifth-year option on wide receiver Kendall Wright’s rookie contract, per the Tennessean.

Teams have until May 3 to exercise the 2016 options on players selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but the Titans are prepared to pick up the $7.3 million option on Wright’s contract. After catching 94 passes for 1,079 yards in 2013, his production dipped to 57 receptions for 715 yards and six touchdowns last season while the Titans experienced very inconsistent quarterback play.

Wright, the 20th overall pick in 2012, signed a four-year, $8.2 million rookie deal.

—The New York Jets picked up the fifth-year option on outside linebacker Quinton Coples’ rookie contract, according to NFL Media’s Albert Breer.

Coples, 24, has only 16.5 career sacks and picking up the $7.8 million option gives the Jets another year to evaluate the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft before potentially considering a long-term deal next offseason.

—Restricted free agents Justin Tucker and Will Hill signed their tenders with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.

Tucker, the team’s standout kicker, had been tendered at the second-round value, $2.36 million. Hill, a safety, was offered $1.54 million.

Tucker, who was an undrafted free agent in 2012, is the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 89.8 percent (97 of 108).

Hill sat out six games last season due to a positive test for marijuana and then finished the season as the Ravens’ starting free safety. He is expected to compete for the starting role at strong safety this year.

—Tight end Bear Pascoe signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

The seventh-year veteran has 34 starts in 82 games since he was drafted in the sixth round in 2009. Pascoe played for the New York Giants (2009-13) and Atlanta Falcons (2014), recording 40 receptions for 336 yards (8.4-yard average) and two touchdowns.

—Veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Jennings, who was released in March by the Minnesota Vikings, was in Miami to take a physical on Wednesday.

In effect, the Dolphins traded Mike Wallace for Jennings, who became expendable in Minnesota when the Dolphins dealt Wallace to the Vikings.

Jennings, 31, had signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings in 2013. In two seasons with Minnesota, he caught 127 passes for 1,546 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Jennings played his first seven seasons in Green Bay and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and 2011.

— Missouri edge rusher Shane Ray met with a foot specialist on Thursday whose recommendation was that surgery will not be necessary on Ray’s toe injury, according to NFL.com.

Ray is the No. 11 prospect by NFLDraftScout.com, but the status of the turf toe-like injury that kept him from working out at the Scouting Combine in February will be critical in teams deciding where Ray fits on their board among other pass rushers including Florida’s Dane Fowler Jr., Vic Beasley, Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Randy Gregory.

Ray met with Dr. Aakash Shah in Kansas City a week before the start of the NFL Draft. According to reports, some teams believe Ray will need surgery on the toe he injured in Missouri’s bowl game and could be sidelined three to five months. If Ray does not need surgery, he could be available for post-draft workouts.

Ray led the SEC with 14.5 sacks during his first season as a starter in 2014.

—Montana defensive end Zack Wagenmann suffered a broken foot during a pre-draft workout for an undisclosed NFL team, per ESPN’s Adam Caplan.

Wagenmann, the No. 20 defensive end prospect in this class and a projected sixth-round pick by NFLDraftScout.com, is expected to be sidelined for at least eight weeks but should be ready in time for training camp.

Wagenmann has steadily increased his pro prospects since arriving at Montana as a no-star defensive end recruit. Undersized at 6 feet 3 and 247 pounds, he earned a starting job as a sophomore and went on to rack up 37.5 career sacks. He earned an invitation to the 2015 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and turned his performance there into a trip to the Scouting Combine, where he posted a 37.5-inch vertical jump, third among defensive ends.

—New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, recovering from a torn patellar tendon, said that he expects to be ready for the season opener.

“There’s zero doubts that I’ll be playing in that first game,” Cruz said of the Giants’ Sunday night game at Dallas.

“He looked good. He’s running pretty good right now and he’s scheduled to be back ready for the opener for us,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “But until you get out there and turn it loose, you never know what a guy is going to do. But he looks great right now.”

Cruz, who had surgery in October, said he has been running for a month but isn’t making lateral cuts yet.

“I do feel like I can continue to be the same guy that I was before,” said Cruz, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver who had 241 receptions from 2011 to 2013.

—Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said he disagrees with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas’ decision to skip the team’s offseason program while angling for a new contract.

“To be dead honest, I see absolutely zero value in him being away from here — zero value for him,” Elway said. “There is no value for him not to be here with his teammates.”

The Broncos placed the franchise tag on Thomas, guaranteeing him $12.8 million next season. The sides can continue to negotiate on a long-term deal, but Thomas’ absence does not help the installation of a new offense under new coach Gary Kubiak.

Thomas has said he will play under the franchise tag if necessary, so it’s unclear whether he plans to hold out long-term if a new deal does not get done. He also skipped quarterback Peyton Manning’s annual passing camp at Duke earlier this month.

—Running back Maurice Jones-Drew will be honored by the Jacksonville Jaguars with a retirement ceremony next week.

Jones-Drew, a second-round pick of the Jaguars in 2006, spent the first eight of his nine NFL seasons in Jacksonville. He played sparingly for the Oakland Raiders in 2014.

He will officially retire next Tuesday by signing a ceremonial one-day contract with the Jaguars.

Jones-Drew compiled 8,167 yards rushing, 2,944 yards receiving and 81 touchdowns.


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