Carson Wentz the big winner after Eagles' free-agent flurry

Carson Wentz the big winner after Eagles' free-agent flurry

When Carson Wentz went to sleep on Wednesday night, his best outside receivers were Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. 

No more tossing and turning. 

Wentz will sleep a little easier from now on. 

While Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith will be counting their millions and while Howie Roseman will be receiving praise for pulling off the short-term deals, the real winner on Thursday was the Eagles' 24-year-old franchise quarterback. 

Wentz finally has some weapons aside from his hunting rifles. But these weapons are actually good for the Birds. 

All things considered -- the ups and downs included -- Wentz had a solid rookie campaign in 2016. The No. 2 overall pick completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in Year 1. As a rookie and for a team with a serious deficiency at wide receiver, he moved into fourth place all-time for Eagles passing yards in a season. 

Wentz wasn't perfect as a rookie, but he certainly didn't do anything to disprove the Eagles' notion that he can be the guy to lead the franchise for the next decade. And now he has the tools to make a jump in that all-important second year. 

The objective this offseason was pretty simple. A year removed from working to acquire a franchise quarterback, this entire offseason was all about finding ways to build around him. While signing receivers to what are basically both one-year deals might not seem like the way, it at least ensures that Wentz will have quality receivers to work with in 2017. It ensures that he'll be able to get into a rhythm and be able to count on his receivers to catch passes. 

It ensures that his growth won't be stunted by players who simply don't belong. 

How many times did Wentz seemingly avoid pressure, run around in the backfield for five or six seconds only to find that no one had gotten open? How many times did he throw for a first down only to have the ball dropped? How many times could a receiver have pulled in a tough pass that wasn't perfectly thrown to help him out but didn't? 

Forget Bryce Treggs and (yes, sorry) Paul Turner. DGB and Agholor are now afterthoughts -- if the Eagles get anything out of them next year, great. But now, the Eagles will have proven commodities lining up for them next season -- these guys chose to come and play with Wentz, too.

And the way the puzzle should fit makes a ton of sense. 

Jeffery is the big-bodied (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) receiver that Wentz can feel confidence in when he throws up a 50-50 ball. More times than not, Jeffery will come down with it. 

Smith, even after six years in the league, is still a burner. He's the field-stretcher who can finally help Wentz hit on long balls. Just six players have caught more 40-yard passes than Smith (25) since he entered the league in 2011. That was an area where the Eagles were awful in 2016; they had just six 40-yard completions. 

And Jeffery can catch the deep ball, too. Both Smith and Jeffery have had a season with more 40-yard catches than the Eagles pulled in during 2016. 

On top of Jeffery and Smith, the Eagles will still have two of Wentz's favorite targets -- Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz -- roaming the middle of the field. The two additions ought to help both of them find plenty more open space across the middle. 

Those Eagles fans who always see the glass as half-empty -- and there are plenty -- will scoff at these moves. They'll point at the declining numbers for both players, which are undeniable facts. Catch totals have dropped for Jeffery and Smith in each of their last three seasons. But without that drop-off, neither would be holding press conferences in Philly on Friday. Instead, they'd be playing on huge deals elsewhere. So think of these moves as low-risk, high-reward options.

The low risk comes in the form of the short-term contracts. The high reward will come if having them for at least a year helps Wentz grow. 

Because ultimately, that's what it's all about: helping Wentz grow. 

And it's hard to grow without getting a good night's sleep. 

NFL Notes: Panthers OT Michael Oher released

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USA Today Images

NFL Notes: Panthers OT Michael Oher released

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Panthers have released the former starting left tackle Michael Oher after he failed a physical.

The move was announced Thursday, six days before they report to training camp.

Oher, the subject of the movie "The Blind Side," started 16 regular games and three playoff games for the Panthers during their Super Bowl run in 2015. However, he sustained a concussion in the third game of last season and hasn't played since. He remains in the league's concussion protocol 10 months after sustaining the injury.

"The Brain is a scary thing. You have to be careful with it," Oher Tweeted after being released.

It's the first personnel move under Panthers new interim general manager Marty Hurney, who was hired on Wednesday.

Cardinals: RB Johnson re-signs on 1-year deal
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals have re-signed nine-year NFL veteran Chris Johnson to a one-year contract.

The 31-year-old running back is expected to provide backup support for All-Pro David Johnson at the position.

Chris Johnson spent the last two seasons with Arizona. He played in only four games last season before a groin injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Johnson led the Cardinals in rushing in 2015 with 814 yards on 196 carries, an average of 4.2 yards per attempt, but his playing time diminished with the emergence of David Johnson, who was a rookie that season.

Chris Johnson is a three-time Pro Bowl player and is one of only seven players to top 2,000 yards rushing in a season. He rushed for 2,006 yards for Tennessee in 2009.

Cowboys: LB Durant back for 2nd stint with team
FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are bringing back linebacker Justin Durant again with training camp just a few days away.

Durant signed Thursday for a second season in his second stint with the Cowboys. He spent the 2013-14 seasons with Dallas before going to Atlanta as a free agent for one year. He returned to the Cowboys last season, finishing with 54 tackles in a reserve role.

The 31-year-old Durant spent his first four seasons with Jacksonville before playing two years in Detroit. He has 809 career tackles.

The Cowboys, who have their first camp practice Monday in Oxnard, California, released defensive back Jeremiah McKinnon of Florida.

O.J. Simpson granted parole after 9 years in prison

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AP Images

O.J. Simpson granted parole after 9 years in prison

LOVELOCK, Nev. -- O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel-room heist, successfully making his case for freedom in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star.

Simpson, 70, could be released as early as Oct. 1. By then, he will have served the minimum of his nine-to-33-year sentence for a bungled attempt to snatch sports memorabilia he claimed had been stolen from him.

During the more than hour-long hearing on live TV, Simpson was, by turns, remorseful, jovial and defensive, heatedly insisting the items taken in the armed robbery were "my stuff."

At one point, the murder defendant in the 1995 "Trial of the Century" set off a storm of sarcasm and incredulity on social media when he said: "I've basically spent a conflict-free life, you know."

All four parole commissioners who conducted the hearing voted for his release after a half-hour of deliberations. They cited, among other things, the low risk he might commit another crime, his community support and his release plans, which include moving to Florida.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Simpson said quietly as he buried his head on his chest with relief. As he rose from his seat to return to his prison cell, he exhaled deeply.

Then, as he was led down a hall, the Hall of Fame athlete raised his hands over his head in a victory gesture and said: "Oh, God, oh!"

Simpson was widely expected to win parole, given similar cases and his good behavior behind bars. His defenders have argued, too, that his sentence was out of proportion to the crime and that he was being punished for the two murders he was acquitted of in Los Angeles in 1995, the stabbings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Inmate No. 1027820 made his plea for freedom in a stark hearing room at the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada as the parole commissioners questioned him via video from Carson City, a two-hour drive away.

Gray-haired but looking trimmer than he has in recent years, Simpson walked stiffly into the hearing room in jeans, a light-blue prison-issue shirt and sneakers. He chuckled at one point as the parole board chairwoman mistakenly gave his age as 90.

Simpson insisted he never meant to hurt anyone, never pointed a gun and didn't make any threats during the holdup of two sports memorabilia dealers.

"I thought I was glad to get my stuff back, but it just wasn't worth it," he told the board. "It wasn't worth it, and I'm sorry."

Even one of the dealers Simpson robbed, Bruce Fromong, testified on his behalf, telling the parole board that Simpson deserved to be released so he could be with his family.

"He is a good man. He made a mistake," Fromong said, adding the two remain friends.

Arnelle Simpson, at 48 the eldest of Simpson's four children, told the board, "We recognize that he is not the perfect man." But she said he has been "a perfect inmate, following all the rules and making the best of the situation."

"We just want him to come home, we really do," she said.

The commissioners said the murder case played no role in their decision, though a majority of letter writers opposed to Simpson's release asked the board to take it into account.

Among those angered by Thursday's decision were Goldman's father, Fred, and sister, Kim.

"The Goldmans are devastated," said family spokesman Michael Wright, adding they didn't want to say anything more.

Simpson said that he has spent his time in prison mentoring fellow inmates, often keeping them out of trouble, and that he has become a better person behind bars.

"I've done my time. I've done it as well and respectfully as I think anybody can," he told the board.

Asked if he was confident he could stay out of trouble if released, Simpson replied that he learned a lot from an alternative-to-violence course he took in prison and that in any case he has always gotten along well with people.

Several major TV networks and cable channels -- including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and ESPN -- carried the proceedings live, just as some of them did two decades ago during the Ford Bronco chase that ended in Simpson's arrest, and again when the jury in the murder case came back with its verdict.

Simpson said if released he plans to return to Florida to be near two of his adult children.

"I could easily stay in Nevada, but I don't think you guys want me here," he joked at one point.

"No comment, sir," board chairwoman Connie Bisbee replied.

Authorities must still work out the details of Simpson's release with Florida officials, including where he will live and what rules he must follow.

An electrifying running back dubbed "The Juice," Simpson won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best college football player in 1968 and went on to become one of the NFL's all-time greats.

The handsome and charismatic athlete was also a "Monday Night Football" commentator, sprinted through airports in Hertz rental-car commercials and built a Hollywood career with roles in the "Naked Gun" comedies and other movies.

All of that came crashing down with his arrest in the 1994 slayings and his trial, a gavel-to-gavel live-TV sensation that transfixed viewers with its testimony about the bloody glove that didn't fit and stirred furious debate over racist police, celebrity justice and cameras in the courtroom.

Last year, the case proved to be compelling TV all over again with the ESPN documentary "O.J.: Made in America" and the award-winning FX miniseries "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story."

In 1997, Simpson was found liable in civil court for the two killings and ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors, including his children and the Goldman family.

Then a decade later, he and five accomplices -- two with guns -- stormed a hotel room and seized photos, plaques and signed balls, some of which never belonged to Simpson.

Simpson was convicted in 2008, and the long prison sentence brought a measure of satisfaction to some of those who thought he got away with murder.