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Week Four Friday 10-pack

It’s Friday morning.  And since the news flow often slows down on Friday morning, we need to fill space.

So we fill space with 10 story lines emanating from the upcoming slate of games.

It’s harder with two or three storyline-worthy teams on a bye, but we eventually found a way to milk the cow this week.


1.  Jets could soon be soaring.

After a disappointing Monday night loss to break in their half of the
New Meadowlands Stadium (it’s sort of like Fred and Barney sharing a
swimming pool
), the Jets have won two in a row against their primary
division rivals.  And they’ve done it with cornerback Darrelle Revis and
linebacker Calvin Pace injured, and with receiver Santonio Holmes on
suspension.

So what happens when those guys come back?

The Vikings could find out on Monday, October 11, when Holmes definitely
be back — and when Revis and/or Pace could be dressed and playing, too.

Considering the level of play that the Jets have achieved without them,
the Jets could be poised to run away with the division.  Until then,
they won’t even have to switch to missiles to shoot down the Bills.

2.  Last chance for Mangini?

The Browns have been competitive in each of their first three games.  But they’ve lost each one.

After this weekend’s visit from the Bengals, the Browns play the Falcons, Steelers, and Saints.  Then comes the bye week.

As a result, a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday would make an 0-7 start
likely, and team president Mike Holmgren could decide to part ways with
coach Eric Mangini.  And so Sunday’s game could be Mangini’s last and
best chance to preserve his job beyond October 31.

If the Browns don’t win in Week Four, and in turn don’t pull off an
unlikely upset of the Falcons, Steelers, or Saints, there’s a chance
that, when the Jets come to Cleveland on November 14, coach Rex Ryan
could be looking across the sideline at his identical twin, Browns
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

3.  Running back injuries confirm 18-game season concerns.

With Colts president Bill Polian sparking a belated debate regarding the
wisdom of an 18-game season, one of the primary concerns is (or at
least should be) the impact of two additional games on the short-term
and long-term health of the players.

Indeed, with seven running backs (Steven Jackson of the Rams, Pierre
Thomas of the Saints, Jahvid Best of the Lions, Ray Rice of the Ravens,
Cedric Benson of the Bengals, Fred Taylor of the Patriots, and Knowshon
Moreno of the Broncos) already dinged up after only three games and
Reggie Bush of the Saints out with a broken leg, the league and
the union need to be very concerned about the potential consequences of
additional games on the players who take the brunt of the punishment in
the 16 games that already are played.

Though the move from 14 to 16 games in the ’70s occurred without much public discussion or debate, the three-channels television universe and the absence of talk radio and the Internet fueled that outcome.  Besides, players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger.  When they hit each other, the bones and ligaments we all possess are at more risk than ever before.

4.  Team of destiny wanted.

Last year, it was obvious after three weeks that the Saints and Colts
were headed for big things.  New Orleans hung 45 on the Lions, winning
by 18, and 48 on the Eagles, winning by 26.  Held under 30 by the Bills,
the Saints still won by 20.

The Colts started more slowly, beating the Jags by two and the Dolphins
by four.  By Week Three, however, the Colts had taken down the defending
NFC champions (the Cardinals) by 21.

This year, none of the three remaining undefeated teams have rolled over
their opponents consistently.  The Steelers and the Chiefs won close
games in Week One and Week Two before notching 20-plus point victories in
Week Three.  The Bears have won by five points, seven points, and three
points.

The absence of a team that clearly and definitively is taking care of
its business has reinforced the sense of parity that could be laying the
foundation for a playoff run with plenty of teams still alive, and a
postseason in which anything can happen.

For now, the Steelers are the team most likely to emerge as the team to
beat, but first they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday.  If the Steelers
can’t — and if the Bears lose on the road against the Giants — the
off-this-Sunday Chiefs could be the only undefeated team left after four
weeks of action.

Somewhere, Pete Rozelle will be smiling broadly.

5.  Time for Texans to prove themselves.

When the Texans toppled the Colts to open the season, the team that has
played eight years without a playoff berth seemed to be destined to
finally bust through to the postseason.  But then the Texans struggled
to beat a Redskins team that suddenly has inherited the stink of the
Rams, and the Texans lost fairly convincingly to in-state rivals who
were on the ropes, in danger of being punched through.

So are the Texans a contender, or did they merely give the first game of the season the Daytona 500 treatment?

Beating the Raiders won’t mean conclusively that the Texans are legit,
but losing will mean that Houston isn’t ready to hang with the likes of
the Colts and the Titans in arguably the best division in the
conference, if not the league.

6.  Desperation shifts from Dallas to New York.

Last week, a strong sense of desperation emerged in Dallas, where the
Cowboys had lost their first two games — and faced falling to 0-3 at
the hands of an upstart team from Houston that had started the year 2-0.

The Cowboys found a way to push the dark cloud away last week, and it
now has settled in New York, over the Rubble half of the Fred-and-Barney
pool.  (That’s the third Flintstones reference of the day.  And it’s not even 1966.)

The Giants, after beating the Panthers (who have turned out to be
toothless, de-clawed, malnourished house cats), have been spanked by the Colts and
Titans in successive weeks.  Only 14 days after losing decisively in
Indy, the Giants cannot afford to be embarrassed again before a national
audience.  (On NBC.)

With their backs firmly pressed against the wall and the Bears
overachieving their way through two of their three wins, look for the
Giants to get their act together, if only for a night.

And who knows?  Three years ago, the Giants lost their first two games
and gave up 80 points in the process.  More than four months later, they
only won the Super Bowl.

7.  Fins, Pats face “must” wins.

Yeah, it’s only Week Four.  But with the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots
getting an early start on their round-robin routine, neither the
Patriots nor the Dolphins can afford to drop to 0-2.

The Dolphins need it even more; they play the Jets in New York on
December 12 and the Pats in New England on January 2.  Already in danger
of being swept by the Jets, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose at home
to New England, if the Dolphins have genuine designs on winning the
division.

The Patriots need this one, too.  But they still get the Jets and the
Dolphins at home.  For the Dolphins, the season could potentially be over less than a
month after it began.

8.  Loss to Browns could help the Bengals in the long run.

The Bengals, despite their 2-1 record, don’t project the same vibe as
they did a year ago.  With a good defense (Week One at New England
notwithstanding) and a capable running back, the Bengals have relied too
heavily on the passing game.

Though T.O. has thrown the offensive line under the bus without overtly
throwing the offensive line under the bus, questions persist regarding
quarterback Carson Palmer.  Whether he has lingering elbow issues or he
simply has lost his zip on the ball, the Bengals seem to be in the same
style of denial that plagued the Panthers in 2009, when they refused to
face reality regarding quarterback Jake Delhomme.

And so a loss to the Browns could help jar the Bengals into facing
reality.   Eventually, they need to ask themselves whether Palmer
truly represents the future of the franchise at the quarterback
position.

With a base salary of $11.5 million due to Palmer in 2011, we’ve got a
feeling that, win or lose on Sunday, the notoriously frugal Bengals will
think long and hard about paying that much money to a guy who has no
career playoff wins, and whose best days may be fading far behind him.

9.  Snyder’s biggest test could be coming.

For more than 11 years, Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins.  And for
most of that time, Snyder has been impatient when it comes to the men
who are coaching the team.

After two years, Norv Turner was dumped.  (A playoff appearance likely
saved him in 1999.)  Marty Schottenheimer lasted a season.  Steve
Spurrier made it for two.  But for his resume and Hall of Fame bust, Joe
Gibbs may not have made it four years.  Jim Zorn lasted only two.

And throughout most if not all of Zorn’s final year, Snyder was wooing
(or at least planning to woo) Mike Shanahan, the presumed savior of the
franchise.

In Week One, it appeared to be a brilliant move, thanks to an unexpected
win over the Cowboys.  But after blowing a 17-point lead against the
Texans and somehow losing by 14 against the Rams, the Redskins face what
could be a very long day at Lincoln Financial Field.

It gets no easier with the Packers and Colts coming to town, followed by trips to Chicago and Detroit.

Yes, Detroit, where the Lions managed to beat the Redskins in 2009, for
their first win in 22 games.  After a bye, the Redskins have the Eagles
again, the Titans, the Vikings, the Giants twice, and the Cowboys
again.

It all easily could add up to a losing season.  Though the outcome may
be better than 4-12, it easily could be yet another two-digit collection
of losses.  And then Snyder will have to find a way to resist the urge
to act, and to instead commit to staying the course.

Given the open and obvious salivating for Shanahan, there’s no way
Snyder can make a change after only one year.  Based on his history,
however, Snyder surely will approach 2011 with questions swirling in his
mind as to whether there might be another guy out there whose name
Snyder should pencil onto the top of the latest version of his wish
list.

10.  Rams have a chance to make some noise.

Based on their pattern of three wins in 2007, two in 2008, and one in 2009, the Rams were on track to go 0-16 in 2010.

Already, they’ve blown that trend out of the water by climbing to 1-2.

This weekend, the Rams have a chance to break a 10-game losing streak to
the Seahawks, a string that dates back to 2004, when St. Louis took
three games from their division rivals, include two in the usually
impenetrable Qwest Field.

If they can — and if the Cardinals lose in San Diego — the Rams will
find themselves in a  three-way tie atop the division after four weeks.

With three of the next four games against the Lions, Bucs, and Panthers,
the Rams could be on the right side of .500 at the bye.  And that could
give them the confidence they need to make a serious run at the
division crown and the postseason home game that goes along with it.

Sure, they likely won’t win the division.  But the fact that they won’t
be dead in the water with 25 percent of the season in the books is
nothing short of stunning.

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Stephen Hill hears heckling from fans, responds to it

Hill AP

Generally, the Jets currently enjoy a strong (and increasingly loud) sense of optimism.  Specifically, the team still has some players about whom there is concern.

Atop the list sits receiver Stephen Hill.  The 43rd overall pick in 2012, taken two spots before Alshon Jeffrey (yes, Jets fans, Alshon Jeffrey), Hill faces a likely up-or-out training camp and preseason in 2014.

Some Jets fans already are casting a vote for out.  Via Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com, a fan at training camp on Friday expressed a sentiment of that sort to Hill.  And Hill responded.

“Take me out of the game?” Hill shouted to the fans behind him as he ran to the field. “You act like I didn’t hear that sh-t.”

Hill is tall and he’s fast and he went to Georgia Tech.  And that’s where the similarities with Calvin Johnson end.

Through 23 games in two seasons, Hill has caught 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns.  The man who drafted Hill, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum, is long gone, and it was clear from the get-go that, like Friday’s heckler, coach Rex Ryan doesn’t belong to the Stephen Hill fan club.

“Well, nothing told me he would [contribute],” Ryan said in 2012. “Nothing. When I saw the tape [of his collegiate play] I was concerned. But Mike Tannenbaum and [senior personnel executive] Terry Bradway and all our scouts were adamant about this guy. They were adamant that this guy can do it. He can run all these routes, he had good hands and he’s got 4.2 speed at 6-foot-5. He was the guy they all wanted, but honestly, when it came down to it, a wideout? Not my dream pick. But now that we have him, of course, I want to claim him: ‘Oh, that was my pick.’ But it really wasn’t.”

Through two years, Hill has proven Ryan right.  Which could mean that Ryan will finally get his wish.

But even if Hill has joined Tannenbaum as a former Jets employee before the season starts, Ryan will be reminded of the decision to take Hill over Jeffrey when the Bears come to MetLife Stadium for a Week Three Monday night game.

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Jaworski would take Foles over Wilson and it’s “not even close”

Jaws Getty Images

At a time when the jury seems to be out on whether Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will perform at the same level he did in 2013, a former Eagles quarterback is ready to entering a verdict, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Recently appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, Jaworski was asked whether he’d want Foles or Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who like Foles entered the NFL via round three of the 2012 draft.

“I’m taking Foles,” Jaworski said.  “Not even close.  Russell Wilson is just . . . because of that system he is in.  Russell Wilson plays with that defense, the best in football.  He just managed the game very well.  I think Russell Wilson has played terrific, a great maturity, but I’m going to take Nick Foles.”

While Jaworski is entitled to his opinions (and ESPN is entitled to milk three days or programming out of each of them), this one seems a little kooky.

As to Foles, it’s possible his success can be attributed in part to working with Andy Reid ad a rookie and Chip Kelly in 2013.  Also, since Mike Vick was the starter entering the 2013 season, defenses didn’t have tape on Foles, giving him an advantage during his truncated first tour through an NFL schedule.

As to Wilson, he’s hardly a game manager.  By all accounts, he’s a dynamic and driven young leader who has done a lot more for the Seahawks than hand off the ball and throw safe, first-read passes.  Wilson threw for more yards in 2013 than Colin Kaepernick, who helped ESPN create several days of news churn last year when Jaws declared Kaepernick could become one of the best to ever play the position.  Also, Wilson’s passer rating exceeded 100.  (Kaepernick’s didn’t.)

More importantly, Wilson wins.  Yes, it’s a cliché and it’s not very insightful and it draws a fine from producer Matt Casey if it’s uttered on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk when we return from hiatus on Monday.  But the game is about winning, and Wilson has shown from the outset of his career that he can and does.

Wilson also has shown that he can continue to perform at a high level even after opposing defenses have had seven months to break down everything he did in his first season of action.  Foles will have to do the same thing in 2014 before there’s even a fair debate as to whether he’s in the same conversation as Russell Wilson.

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49ers worry about Kendall Hunter’s leg injury

Hunter Getty Images

It suddenly could be easier for the 49ers to divvy up tailback carries, but that’s a very thin silver lining in the dark cloud currently hovering over contract-year backup Kendall Hunter.

Hunter, a largely forgotten 49ers favorite amid the arrivals of Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde in the last two drafts, suffered a leg injury during practice on Friday.  The specific nature and extent of the injury isn’t known, but Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the team is “concerned.”

Per Werder, Hunter went down awkwardly in a non-contact session.  The team “didn’t like the way it looked,” and now time and testing will test whether Hunter will be gone for a little while or a long time.

Lattimore remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which means that Hyde could get plenty of opportunities to show that he can do what Hunter does, which includes a 4.6-yards-per-carry average and a thorough and complete understanding of the team’s pass protections and his role in them.

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Report: “Impassioned plea” from Rice’s wife influenced Goodell

Rice AP

No one knows what the wife of Ray Rice said to the Commissioner when she accompanied the Ravens running back to New York for his personal-conduct policy session.  Whatever it was, it apparently helped Rice get a lesser penalty than most believe he deserved.

According to Jonathan Lehman of the New York Post, Janay Palmer Rice made an “impassioned plea” to Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Her words, whatever they were, reportedly were “instrumental” in the decision to suspend Ray only two games.

What she said isn’t known, and possibly will never be known (unless they have another press conference with no questions from the press).  Peter King of TheMMQB.com has reported that Mrs. Rice “urged” Goodell to “not ruin Rice’s image and career” with the punishment.  She also presumably apologized for her role in the incident that culminated in Rice knocking her out, given that she expressed that same sentiment during that press-conference-without-questions-from-the-press.

It’s all meaningless without seeing the video of the incident.  While troubling footage of Rice dragging his fiancée-turned-wife out of an elevator quickly emerged after the February incident, the video of the punch has been zealously concealed.  Our marginally-educated speculation is that the video shows aggression by Janay that could make the likes of Stephen A. Smith sympathize with the ultimate knockout blow, but that the video nevertheless is far more disturbing than what we’ve already seen, given that it ultimately shows Rice delivering an uppercut to a female and rendering her unconscious.

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Kraft wants L.A. team within 2-3 years

Kraft AP

When it comes to talking about putting franchises in London or Los Angeles, the league routinely creates a sense of urgency that, when it comes to acting on it, doesn’t seem to actually exist.

Appearing Friday on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that a return to L.A. “within the next two to three years . . . would be in everybody’s best interest.”

The problem continues to be finding a stadium solution that is in the best interests of the NFL and the local interest that would be involved in building a stadium and buying all or part of a relocated team.  For years, it’s been believed that the NFL won’t make a deal to return to the NFL unless it’s the right deal, which the ongoing lack of a deal to return to L.A. would seem to confirm.

“We’ve gone a generation — almost 20 years — without a team in L.A.,” Kraft said, via SportsBusiness Daily.  “We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded and tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for, and I think it’s very important.”

Kraft, who said he’d like to see two teams return to Los Angeles, hinted at one point about ESPN eventually televising a Monday Night Football game “from downtown L.A.,” a reference to the dormant-if-not-dead AEG proposal to build a stadium near Staples Center.  Whether an idle comment or deliberate, finding a location for a stadium continues to be one of the biggest challenges.

“It’s complicated, because L.A. is a [big] market, the weather is great, you have so many choices,” Kraft said.  “So we need to make sure we have ownership that’s passionate about the game, really feel that the franchise is one of the most important things in their life.  Then we’ve got to get the right venue.  Having the right venue is so critical because I don’t think we’ll get fans in the L.A. market to come if it’s not really special.”

Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times recently reported that the right venue could be a venue built and owned by the NFL.  Whatever the solution, there continues to be plenty of talk about returning to Los Angeles and expanding to London, but no action.

That doesn’t mean quick action isn’t possible, especially with the two teams that left L.A. in 1995 — the Raiders and the Rams — now operating on year-to-year leases.

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Cam Newton: I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet

camnewton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is healthy enough to practice at training camp. But he’s not healthy enough to do all of the things we’re accustomed to seeing from him on the football field.

“I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet,” said Newton, who had ankle surgery in March. “It’s just going to take treatment and time.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera echoed those comments, saying he’s glad Newton is practicing but realizes Newton’s ankle isn’t allowing him to do everything.

”It was good to see Cam out there,” Rivera said. ”He’s a little rusty in terms of his quarterback to running back exchange. But he’s working himself back in and he has to work those techniques. But it was nice to see him make some nice throws. . . . A big thing is developing that footwork and getting that flexibility back in that ankle. As he practices and goes through day by day we have to be smart with it. I think he will work back into shape pretty soon.”

Newton’s ankle had been bothering him for years, and the goal of the surgery is to make the ankle better in the long run. He’s not there yet, but he should be in good shape when the season starts in six weeks.

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Manziel says he’s “on the same page” with Browns, admits “rookie mistakes”

Johnny Manziel AP

As he begins his first NFL training camp after an offseason filled with chatter about his off-field habits, Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel admitted Friday he has made some “rookie mistakes” early in his pro career.

However, the Browns’ first-round pick also made it clear he doesn’t see a problem having a good time once in a while.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me going out and having a nightlife and having a social life,” Manziel said at a press conference. “I mean, I am 21 years old, and I do like going out.

“It was the offseason. It’s free time for us, and if I want to go out and hang out with my friends or go to nightclubs or do things like that, then I think that’s within my rights to being doing that, and I think there’s other guys throughout the league that are going that. And I’m not trying to compare myself to anybody else, but I think that’s within my rights to be doing that.”

While not specifically addressing what he considered to be missteps, Manziel noted he had communicated with coach Mike Pettine and G.M. Ray Farmer and that all was well entering camp.

“Me and Coach Pettine and Ray Farmer have really talked about a lot of things that have transpired over the course of the offseason, and for me, my main thing is, people within this building, my teammates, coaching staff, the higher-ups in this organization, we’ve all been on the same page, we’ve all been good, and very eager to be moving forward,” Manziel said.

Of his “rookie mistakes,” Manziel said: “There’s some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently, but (I’m) continuing to move forward and try to represent this organization and this team in a positive manner and in a positive light.”

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner added he was “just very excited to be back in camp, when it’s football 24-7. That’s what I love doing, that’s what I live for, and it’s what my job is.”

As to be expected, Manziel was asked early in his press conference about the controversial photo of him appearing to roll a dollar bill.

“I’ve talked about that with Coach Pettine,” Manziel said. “I’ve talked about it with Ray Farmer and the people that I need to talk about that with. And moving forward, they’re good with everything, and I’ve told them everything that I need to, and everything’s been good.”

Manziel’s remarks came on the same day that the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported some in the Browns’ organization were “alarmed” by a few of the rookie quarterback’s off-field actions in the offseason.

The Browns’ first training camp practice is Saturday.

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Doug Baldwin, Pete Carroll have different views on contracts

dougbaldwin AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin do not agree about the holdout of running back Marshawn Lynch.

Carroll says Lynch needs to get to camp because Lynch signed a contract and needs to honor it. But shortly after Carroll made those comments, Baldwin took to Twitter and said he hates hearing from NFL teams about how players have to honor their contracts, because teams routinely cut players who have years left on their contracts.

“I hate the ‘but you signed the contract’ argument,” Baldwin wrote. “Players can’t say that s–t when organizations cut them.”

Baldwin’s view is a common one among NFL players, who often complain that their contracts don’t have the same guarantees of their colleagues in professional baseball and basketball. Lynch’s holdout may not be exposing a rift within the Super Bowl champions’ locker room, but it is at the very least demonstrating that players and coaches often have very different views about what it means to live up to a contract.

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Report: Vick Ballard tore his Achilles

Vick Ballard AP

The Colts saw running back Vick Ballard get carted off the field at practice on Friday and initial reports are that Ballard has suffered a severe injury for the second straight season.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Ballard tore his Achilles tendon during the workout. That sets up another lost season for Ballard, who tore his ACL in the first week of the 2013 season and missed the remainder of the season.

It also leaves the Colts looking a bit shaky at running back heading into the preseason. Trent Richardson did not impress anyone after arriving in Indianapolis in a trade with the Browns after Ballard got hurt last season and Ahmad Bradshaw ended last season on injured reserve with a neck injury. Bradshaw has also dealt with foot troubles throughout his career, which creates further reason to worry about their depth.

Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and Zurlon Tipton round out the running back group, which makes it seem likely that the Colts will be looking for help outside the organization if and when they confirm Ballard’s diagnosis. Michael Bush, Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee are some unsigned veteran options that could be of interest to the Colts.

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Pete Carroll on Marshawn Lynch: It’s called a contract for a reason

Marshawn Lynch, Pete Carroll AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is unhappy with his contract and expressing that displeasure by staying away from training camp, an approach that General Manager John Schneider says that the team isn’t planning to give him another one with two years to go on the current pact.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed Schneider’s comments on Friday, saying that the deal they gave Lynch in 2012 was part of the organization’s long-term plan to build a winning team and that they expect Lynch to hold up his end of that contract.

“It’s a contract for a reason. We made a decision and it was signed, by us and by them,” Carroll said, via USA Today. “We expect them to honor their contract just as we will. We’re going to honor it and we expect them to do the same.”

Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and other players released by the Seahawks with time and money left on their contract would probably be interested to know that the Seahawks’ policy is to honor every contract until the moment it expires, especially since they were doing Lynch one better and showing up for work before they were cut loose. USC might feel the same way about Carroll leaving the school for the Seahawks while still under contract.

Carroll’s skewed view of the way contracts work is beside the point when it comes to the Lynch situation, though. Right now, the Seahawks have made it clear that they’ll move on with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael before giving Lynch any more money and Lynch has made it clear he won’t show up until he gets more money. Someone is going to have to change their mind if Beast Mode is going to run again this season.

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Patriots release TE Nate Byham

Nate Byham, Haruki Nakamura AP

Less than a week after signing tight end Nate Byham, the Patriots have let him go.

The club released Byham on Friday, five days after adding the ex-Buccaneers tight end to their roster.

The move leaves the Patriots with one open roster spot. They have five tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Justin Jones, Asa Watson and D.J. Williams.

A fourth-year pro from Pittsburgh, Byham (6-4, 265) is a vested veteran, leaving him free to immediately sign elsewhere. He has played 29 NFL regular season games, catching 11 passes for 83 yards and a touchdowns. After beginning his career with San Francisco (2010-2011), Byham spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.

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Steelers place Mike Mitchell on PUP list to start camp

Mike Mitchell AP

The Steelers will open camp without a pair of players, including one of their rare free agent splurges.

The team announced that safety Mike Mitchell and running back Alvester Alexander would begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Mitchell parlayed a solid season with the Panthers into some security, with the Steelers stepping out of form with a five-year, $25 million deal.

He showed last year he’s not averse to coming up and making big hits (though he thinks Roger Goodell is targeting him for fines), but will have to play more of a coverage role paired with Troy Polamalu.

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Tyrann Mathieu says he’s 6-8 weeks away from returning

Tyrann Mathieu AP

The Cardinals placed safety Tyann Mathieu on the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier this week, a procedural move that confirms he’s not ready to start practicing after last year’s torn ACL.

The team can remove the designation and allow Mathieu to practice at any point during camp, but it doesn’t sound like that’s imminent. And it might not happen at all.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that Mathieu said Friday that he thinks he is 6-8 weeks away from playing, a time frame that fits with coach Bruce Arians’ earlier comment that he wasn’t expecting to have Mathieu back before October 1.

The question for the Cardinals, then, will be whether they activate Mathieu from the PUP list at all or if they will have him remain on the list into the regular season. If they opt for the latter route, Mathieu will not be allowed to play or practice for the first six weeks of the season and the Cardinals could fill his roster spot with another player.

It’s premature to make any assumptions about which way they’ll go, but it is certainly a possibility if Mathieu is going to miss the first month of the season.

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Carl Nicks, Buccaneers part ways

Carl Nicks AP

Two years ago, the Buccaneers pilfered free-agent guard Carl Nicks from the Saints with a five-year, $47.5 million contract.  Now, Nicks is a free agent again.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that the Bucs and Nicks have struck a deal to end his time in Tampa.  Glazer calls the situation an “amicable settlement,” which implies that something other than an outright release happened.

It’s possible Nicks has given back some of the $25 million he has received for appearing in only nine games.  It’s possible that the Bucs gave him a little more money to resolve any potential claims arising from the staph infection he contracted last year.

Either way, Nicks will be able to continue his career with another team, if/when he has fully recovered from last year’s illness.

Nicks was due to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2014.

UPDATE 5:03 p.m. ET:  The Buccaneers have announced the move, and Nicks’ comments create the impression that he will not be continuing his NFL career.

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New Vikings stadium raises bird concerns

Birds Getty Images

The new Vikings stadium will resemble in many respects a gigantic terrarium, with plenty of glass under which humans will be potentially baking.  But that’s still better than what it may do to the birds.

Deadspin recently pointed out a press release from Audubon Minnesota, which accuses the Vikings of creating a “death trap” for our fine, feathered friends (except when one of those bastards craps on my toupee).

“We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds –- and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that,” Audubon Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Anderson said.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds.  The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ – surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap.  We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

The issue isn’t a new one.  For months, concerns have been raised regarding the importance of making sure that birds won’t fly into what they believe to not be a giant slab of glass.

Per the release, Audubon Minnesota “communicated regularly with stadium developers until April 2014, when they were told that another meeting would be scheduled before a July 15 decision on the type of glass to be used.”  The meeting allegedly was canceled, and on July 17 Audubon Minnesota was told that there would be no change in the stadium glass.

Apparently, someone decided it would be cheaper to pay someone to pick up all those dead birds from the stadium grounds over the next 30 or 40 years than it will be to fix the glass.  Those costs may go up when dead birds start landing on toupees.

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