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Week 12 Thanksgiving 10-pack

Packers Lions Football

We’ve moved the Friday 10-pack to Thursday, since posting it on Thursday puts the Thanksgiving games in play for our 10 takes regarding the coming weekend of games.

I also needed to get it done early because I’ll be spending Thursday night preparing to host The Dan Patrick Show on Friday, a process which may look a lot like achieving and maintaining a turkey-induced stupor.  Primarily because that’s precisely what it will be.

1.  At least the NFL tried to give us good games on Thanksgiving.

Every year, complaints arise regarding the quality of the games played on the fourth Thursday in November.  This year, the NFL did something about it.

Though the Lions continue to have a hammerlock on the early game, the NFL picked the Patriots to be the visiting team.  (Because CBS will televise the game, the road team had to be from the AFC; this year, the choices were the Jets and the Patriots.  Either way, a quality opponent would have been pegged for the game.)

For the afternoon contest, the NFL earmarked a game that, as of April, looked to be one of the 10 best of the year — Saints at Cowboys.  Though the Cowboys’ struggles have made the game less intriguing, the NFL opted not to take advantage of its captive audience by offering up the weakest home game on the Dallas schedule.  (Then again, the Lions already were booked.)

The night game — Bengals at Jets — also looked as of April to be a potentially great game, given that the Bengals and Jets both made the playoffs in 2009.  Who knew that the Bengals would be after 10 games The 2-Ocho Show?

Short of moving Thanksgiving to September, the risk that games that looked great in April will be relevant in November applies to every NFL season.  All we can ask is that the NFL attempt to provide quality games.

Even if the Lions and Cowboys would lose their automatic home games, there’s no way of knowing that the games picked prior to the season will involve quality teams by the time the games are played.  What if the Vikings had “earned” a home game on Thanksgiving as a result of their 2009 performance?  Or the 49ers, based on the widespread belief that they’d be much improved in 2010?

In April, every season is a crapshoot.  At least the NFL has finally decided to shoot for something other than crap on Thanksgiving.

2.  Favre could thrive under Frazier.

The decision of Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier to keep brett Favre at quarterback makes sense.  Frazier will earn the job for 2011 only by winning games, and Farve at quarterback gives Frazier the best chance to do that.

The Vikings don’t need to know what Tarvaris Jackson can do; he had relevance only when a change of quarterbacks may have belped salvage a playoff berth.  And Frazier has no interest in developing Joe Webb to become the possible starter for the next regime.

So what of the notion that Favre will continue to produce more turnovers than a baker on an IV full of Red Bull?  Without former coach Brad Childress peering over Favre’s shoulder and constantly telling him what to do and what not to do, it’s entirely possible that Favre will perform better.

Even though reeling off six in a row likely won’t be enough to edge out one of the three-loss teams currently in position to take both of the wild-card spots, a strong finish to the season would partially rehab Favre’s fading legacy — and it would give Frazier a fighter’s chance at keeping the job.  Having Childress out of the picture will make if easier for Favre to just relax and play.

3.  Delhomme’s revenge.

Earlier this year, the Carolina Panthers discarded quarterback Jake Delhomme like an empty bottle of screw-top wine.  And for good reason.  Ever since the completion of the 2008 regular season, Delhomme had been playing like a guy whose Gatorade had been spiked with a full bottle of screw-top wine.

On Sunday, Delhomme will get his first start since Week One, due to Colt McCoy’s ankle sprain.  Coincidentally, that start will come against the Carolina Panthers.

So the game will provide Delhomme with a shot at redemption, a chance to prove the Panthers wrong.

Then again, given that Delhomme received a contract worth $20 million guaranteed before the 2009 season, it’s the Panthers that should be thinking about revenge.

Either way, the link gives a sliver of meaning to an otherwise meaningless game.

4.  It’s getting no easier for Mike Vick.

If the Eagles and quarterback Mike Vick struggle at Soldier Field on Sunday, it’ll be easy to blame the Sports Illustrated jinx, given that he graces the magazine’s cover this week.  But we’re not much for jinxes, unless the person to be jinxed allows himself to think that the jinx exists.

For Vick, the bigger concern should be opposing defenses studying ever bit of tape from his performances to date, building on game plans that slowed him down and trying to devise the one tactic that will shut him down and/or knock him out.

Though the Bears present the latest challenge, a pair of games against the Cowboys, a rematch with the Giants, and a date with the Vikings remain.  With each passing week, defenses will be trying even harder to be the team that solves the Vick riddle, preferably by putting him back on the injury report.

Look for the Bears, mired in a seven-quality-teams-but-only-five-spots chase for the postseason, to pull out all the stops.

5.   Monday night loser could still be alive.

Thanksgiving weekend wraps up with a Monday night game between the 49ers and Cardinals.  It presents a rare stinker on ESPN’s 2010 slate.  But it’s not as bad as it appears, if we ignore the fact that each team has a record of 3-7.

If the 5-5 Seahawks lose on Sunday against the Chiefs, the loser of Monday night’s game will remain only two games out of first place with five games to play.

Sure, the loser will be a woeful 3-8.  But if we can get past that won-loss record, the reality is that the loser can still get hot in December and steal the division and reset its record to 0-0 in the single-elimination tournament that will commence with the NFC West champion hosting a playoff game.

6.  In Atlanta, home-field advantage possibly hangs in the balance.

The game of the week undoubtedly occurs in the Georgia Dome, where the red-hot Packers take on the red-hot Falcons.

Under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have won 18 games and lost only one at home.  Under quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have scored a total of 76 points in consecutive games against the Cowboys and Vikings.

The Packers are more than a good offense; their defense has allowed only 10 points in three games, including the pitching of a shutout of the Jets at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

With these two teams destined to play beyond January 2, this game will go a long way toward determining where the second game may occur.  And regardless of what happens this time around, the location of a January rematch will have a lot to do with its potential outcome.

7.  Keep an eye on Tom Brady’s foot.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has no qualms when it comes to talking about his injuries.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is more apt to talk about his hair.

And so it’s impossible to know the exact diagnosis of and prognosis for Brady’s current foot injury, which caused him to miss practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and to be listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, a rare departure from his usual designation as probable.

Sporting a defensive line that could give the Patriots flashbacks to Super Bowl XLII and a Detroit team that is otherwise irrelevant in NFL circles, it’ll be interesting to see whether these Lions use their rare national spotlight as an occasion to roar, by pouncing on Brady’s bum foot.

8.  Colts are suddenly in trouble.

If the season ended today, the Colts’ season would be over.  And while they’ll play four of their final six games at home, the Colts face the prospect of missing the playoffs — and of winning fewer than 10 games — for the first time since Jim Mora refused to use the “P” word.

The slide very well could continue on Sunday night, when the surging Chargers come to town.  The Chargers have played the Colts well in recent years, providing Indy with a consistent thorn in their side.

And while both of the quarterbacks have had to overcome injuries to their supporting cast on offense, the Chargers are getting healthy a lot faster than the Colts.  And the Chargers will have receiver Vincent Jackson back, for the first time all year.

It could spell trouble once again for the Colts.  At 6-5, the Colts would have to make like the Chargers and finish strong in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

9.  Bucs get their chance to impress.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have handled every team they’ve faced, with the exception of the three elite franchises they’ve played — the Steelers, Saints, and Falcons.

This weekend, the Bucs draw the Ravens.  On the road.

On paper, this is another game that Tampa should lose.  If the Bucs find a way to win, it’ll be time to take this team seriously.

Actually, it’s already time to take this team seriously.  With upcoming games against the Redskins, Lions, and Seahawks, 10 wins could be in the offing.  With the Ravens, Falcons, and Saints also on the docket, victory in any one of those games will help the Bucs do the unthinkable — nailing down coach of the year honors for Raheem Morris, and possibly executive of the year recognition for Mark Dominik.  With a roster devoid of pricey veterans, the Bucs are one of the few teams that is playing like a true team.

10.  Chargers are following form, and will likely continue to do so.

After the Chargers lost five of their first seven games, we said (one or twice, or more often) that the team eventually would try to follow a slow start with a fast finish — and fail.

But the Chargers have shown that they can do it again, reeling off three wins and moving to within a game of first place in the AFC West.  And they’ll likely continue their climb to the playoffs.

Where they’ll likely lose in one of the first two rounds.

While, as mentioned above, they match up well with the Colts, the Chargers eventually would face the Patriots, Jets, Ravens, or Steelers.  And with five losses already in the standings, the Chargers will have to take their pass-first offense to an open-air stadium in the Northeast.  In the middle of January.

Moving forward, and as our friend Scott Caplan of XX 1090 in San Diego pointed out during our weekly Wednesday morning radio visit, the Chargers should redouble their efforts to figure out why they can’t win more games in September and October.  If they could emerge into November and December with a better record, they’d be able to force some of the other elite teams to San Diego in January.

Hey, at least the Chargers wouldn’t have to face a long flight home after losing.

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Early exit on Sunday night could help Broncos starters in short week

Manning AP

As the Broncos prepare to host the Chargers only four nights after hosting the 49ers, Peyton Manning and other members of the starting offense picked up some extra rest by making an early exit from the blowout win over San Francisco.

Manning thinks that could help the Broncos be better prepared to face the Chargers on a short week.

“Certainly we had fewer plays offensively on Sunday night than we did last year on Sunday night,” Manning said.  “I think we were coming off a 90-play offensive game against the Titans.  So you would hope physically that would make a difference in how guys feel.  If you don’t throw the ball accurately or know who to block it doesn’t matter how you feel but I think this week is a physical challenge and a mental challenge, getting to know a team and also getting physically rested and ready to play so hopefully we can do that this week.”

On Sunday night, Manning took 50 snaps.  That should leave him feeling a lot fresher than he did after the 51-28 win over the Titans last December, which featured 91 snaps.

The extra rest could help the Broncos avoid what happened last year on Thursday night against their AFC West rivals.

“The Chargers flat outplayed us,” Manning said.  “It’s a reminder that there aren’t many secrets.  If you go out, don’t execute and make mistakes and have self-inflicted wounds, it’s going to be tough to beat any team, much less a good football team like the Chargers.  So we’re still into our preparation in the short week and hopefully we can play better this Thursday than we did last year on Thursday.”

The Broncos need to.  At stake is a two-game swing in the division, with the Broncos also trying to maintain its current lead for the top seed in the conference.

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Giants try out 15 on Tuesday

Pryor AP

As the New York Giants try improve on a record that Brandon Marshall would deem to be unacceptable, they’ve brought in a large cluster of guys for a Tryout Tuesday tire kicking.

Per a league source, 15 players worked out for the Giants today.

The eclectic group included a receiver, three tight ends, three running backs, a quarterback, two guards, a long snapper, two punters, and two kickers.

Specifically, those working out included receiver Jon Baldwin, tight ends Ted Bolser, Tony Moeaki, and D.J. Williams, running backs Alex Green, Felix Jones, and Dion Lewis, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, guards Jack Cornell and Antoine McClain, long snapper Tyler Ott, punters Jacob Dombrowski and Robert Malone, and kickers Travis Coons and Nate Freese.

Pryor’s workout may have been less about evaluating him for a contract and more about having a quarterback present to throw passes to the seven skill-position players who worked out.

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Colts add Olympian Jeff Demps to practice squad

London Olympics Athletics Men AP

The Colts are adding some speed to their practice squad.

Jeff Demps, who won a silver medal as a member of the U.S. Olympic 4×100-meter relay team, has signed with the Colts’ practice squad.

Alternating between track and football for years, Demps has spent time with the Patriots and Buccaneers but played in just two games in his NFL career, carrying one time for 14 yards, catching three passes for 21 yards and returning four kickoffs for 93 yards. As a running back at Florida, Demps ran for 2,470 yards on 367 carries, added 57 catches for 481 yards, and averaged 28.8 yards per kickoff return.

The Colts also added tight end Konrad Reuland to the practice squad and released quarterback Dominique Davis and wide receiver Chandler Jones from the practice squad.

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Eli Manning says Giants still have time to turn things around

Eli Manning AP

Giants quarterback Eli Manning says seven games into the season is far too early to get worried about the future, even after back-to-back losses to division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas.

Manning said that at 3-4, the Giants still have plenty of time to turn their season around and make a run for the playoffs.

“There is a ton of football,” Manning said, via Newsday. “If we handle our business and start winning games, we have a shot to be OK and in good shape.”

Teammates said Manning gave a similar pep talk in the locker room before players got some time off for their bye week. Manning has twice been part of a Giants team that struggled at times in the regular season but ended up winning the Super Bowl, and he says he knows this team is good enough to overcome its early season struggles.

“I think we have the talent, yes,” he said. “Some of it is developing just because we have some new guys playing at positions . . . There are still some young aspects to it, but there is definitely talent there. When you get through the growing pains of these young guys, they’re doing a lot of good things, there are just little mistakes that are keeping us from being very, very good. The more playing experience they get, the more practices, all of a sudden these young guys start making those plays and things start coming together. That’s when we’ll be at our best.”

With the Eagles and the Cowboys both playing very well, the Giants need to get to their best in a hurry, or else by the time they turn things around, they’ll already be out of contention.

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Brandon Marshall has no regrets about his Sunday outburst

Brandon Getty Images

There’s a recent trend for frustrated NFL players.  Blow up on Sunday, express no regrets about it during the week.

Last week, it was Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin.  This week, it’s Bears receiver Brandon Marshall.

Appearing on Inside The NFL, Marshall addresses his locker-room tirade, and he said that he’d do it again.

“Absolutely my voice was heard,” Marshall said, via quotes distributed by Showtime.  “The only thing I regret is that the door wasn’t closed.  I wouldn’t change any of my reactions, because they came from my heart and that’s how I felt and that’s how I still feel.  I think we have all the coaches we need.  I think we have all the players that we need to get the job done. And 3-4 is unacceptable, but we have everything that we need to turn this ship right now.

“The problem right now is that we are not performing to our ability.  We just need to gel, we need to continue to come together, but the time is now.  We are halfway through the season and if any locker room has the guys to get it done, we do. . . .  We can get this thing turned around.”

The snippets circulated from Showtime don’t address whether Marshall was calling out quarterback Jay Cutler specifically or everyone.  It’s been reported that it was Cutler; we’ve heard it was broader than that.

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Jason Verrett practices, Brandon Flowers doesn’t

Jason Verrett, Brice Butler AP

The Chargers would presumably like to have both Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett available when trying to slow down Peyton Manning on Thursday night, but they’ll probably be happy if they have one of them.

Verrett was a limited participant in practice on Tuesday after missing last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs with a shoulder injury. Taking part in practice is certainly better than the alternative, but Verrett was limited in all three practices last week so it’s not necessarily predictive of whether he’ll be in the lineup against Denver.

Flowers is out with a concussion and the quick turnaround doesn’t leave him much time to progress through the protocol before kickoff. Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego reports that Flowers watched practice from the field with a helmet and visor on.

Linebakcer Jerry Attaochu was a limited participant after the team said he would not have participated in a Monday practice because of a hamstring injury. Running backs Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown, linebacker Manti Te’o and center Rich Ohrnberger all remained out for the Chargers.

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49ers bring back Josh Johnson, again

Johnson Getty Images

Just like there was a fifth Beatle, there’s a 54th 49er.  And his name is Josh Johnson.

Once again, Johnson has been re-signed to the San Francisco roster the Tuesday after a game, giving the team a third quarterback for practice.  Each of the last two weeks, the 49ers have cut Johnson in advance of a game, signing another player to the 53-man roster who is more likely to contribute when it’s time to play.

This is the last time the 49ers will be able to make Johnson the unofficial 54th man on the roster.  San Fran’s next game comes after the trading deadline.  If Johnson is cut at that point, he’ll be exposed to waivers, and any team can claim his contract.

If Johnson clears waivers, he can re-sign with the 49ers the following Tuesday, giving the 49ers a third quarterback — and as a practical matter a 54th player — for yet another week.

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Phil Emery defends Jay Cutler as a “winning quarterback”

Jay Cutler AP

There’s a lot of negative feelings about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in Chicago right now and some of the aggrieved parties got a chance to air their grievances directly to management on Tuesday.

Bears General Manager Phil Emery took part in an online chat on the team’s website and predictably faced many questions about his quarterback, who has turned the ball over 10 times this season. Among the questions Emery fielded was one asking for his take on Cutler’s performance in light of the “enormous contract” the quarterback signed in the offseason.

“Jay Cutler is a winning quarterback in this league and no matter how you analyze the history of quarterbacks in the NFL, if you have a winning record you are an elite player at that position,” Emery wrote. “I’ll say it again: Jay has enormous skills and he continues to improve in all areas as a football player. I know he has some throws he would like to have back, but all of our players have had plays that they would like to have back.”

Giving quarterbacks won-loss records ignores too much of what goes into winning and losing games, but Emery is using it as criteria so it bears mentioning that the Bears are 8-10 with Cutler at the helm over the last two years. It also seems a stretch to think that Cutler is going to morph into a dramatically different quarterback nine years into a career that has been marked by the same kinds of swings between good play and crushing mistakes.

That’s not the worst thing in the world. Cutler is completing more passes than ever and actually has a lower interception percentage than the last two seasons, but that still comes with downsides that have gotten in the way of the winning quarterback leading a team with a winning record.

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Report: Titans trading Akeem Ayers to Patriots

Akeem Ayers AP

The Titans are reportedly set to deal one of their recent second-round picks.

Tennessee has agreed to send outside linebacker Akeem Ayers to New England, Jim Wyatt of the Nashville Tennessean reported Tuesday.

The trade is pending a physical, Wyatt reported. Terms of the deal are not known.

For the 25-year-old Ayers, the trade is an opportunity to start fresh. A starter in his first three seasons with the Titans, Ayers has been a backup this season in Tennessee’s 3-4 scheme, appearing in just two games. He is in the final year of his contract. Ayers (6-3, 255) had surgery on both knees in the offseason.

A UCLA product, Ayers was the No. 39 overall pick in 2011. He’s recorded 232 tackles, nine sacks and two interceptions in 50 games (43 starts).

In New England, Ayers could get a look as a strong-side linebacker in 4-3 fronts and an outside linebacker in “30” fronts. The Patriots are a base 4-3 defense, a scheme in which he has experience.

UPDATE 4:47 p.m. ET: According to Jason La Canfora of CBS, the teams are swapping draft picks in the deal. The Titans will get a sixth-round selection, while the Patriots will get a seventh-rounder and Ayers, per CBS.

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Washington puts Brian Orakpo on IR, brings back Everette Brown

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins 8-18-2014 Getty Images

Washington knew it was going to need another pass-rusher on short notice, so a familiar face made sense.

After putting Brian Orakpo on season-ending injured reserve, they signed Everette Brown.

Orakpo was lost to a torn pectoral muscle last week.

Brown, a former second-round pick, was in camp with them this summer, but didn’t make it through final cuts.

He’s also spent time with the Panthers, Chargers, Lions, Eagles and Cowboys. He has some ability as a 3-4 rusher.

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Plans for Favre’s Lambeau return in November on hold due to Bart Starr’s health

FAVRE AP

The Packers will be retiring Brett Favre’s No. 4 and putting him in the team’s Hall of Fame next year, but Favre was planning an earlier return to Lambeau Field that now looks unlikely to happen.

Favre was planning to join Bart Starr on the field for the team’s November 9 game against the Bears, but told Ed Werder of ESPN that Starr’s recent health troubles make it unlikely to happen. Starr recently had a heart attack and two strokes and Favre said that he’s averse to taking part if Starr is unable to participate.

“I’m sure they could, but it was my idea to do it, and now that Bart can’t, I just don’t think I will,” Favre said.

Had the appearance taken place, all three Packer quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl would have been at Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday that Starr’s health should be the focus rather than any delay in Favre’s return.

“I think the key here is Bart and his health. That’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

There were no concrete plans for what the appearance would entail, although Werder reports there were discussions about the two quarterback serving as honorary captains and participating in the pre-game coin toss.

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Rice appeal hearing set for November 5-6

Rice

Last week, the Ray Rice appeal hearing tentatively was set for early November.  The tentative has now become more definite.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the hearing will occur on November 5 and 6.

Like every other legal proceeding that’s ever been scheduled, the dates could be changed.  And the days could be expanded, with a third day or more eventually set aside for testimony and argument.

Appeal officer Barbara S. Jones previously worked as a federal judge, which means she possibly selected the dates based on information from the lawyers regarding the number of witnesses to be called and the estimated duration of the testimony.

Far bigger than the “when” is the “who”; Judge Jones is expected to rule this week on the question of whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will be required to testify.  The NFL Players Association believes his testimony is critical to the process.  The NFL is resisting the effort to force him to answer questions under oath.

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Amobi Okoye expected to practice on Thursday

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Over the summer, we learned the details of the illness that caused defensive lineman Amobi Okoye to miss all of last season.

Okoye was diagnosed with anti-NMDA encephalitis, a condition that led doctors to put him in a medically-induced coma. Okoye lost 78 pounds while recovering and signed with Dallas in May. He was able to get cleared for contact by the Cowboys at the end of the summer, but remained on the non-football illness list so he could continue his rehab.

Players on NFI are eligible to return to practice and Okoye’s attorney told Adam Caplan of ESPN that Okoye is expected to do just that on Thursday. If he does, it will open up a three-week window for the team to decide whether to put Okoye on the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Okoye said recently that he’s eager to find out what he’s able to do.

“I’m just letting it freewheel,” Okoye said. “I’m excited. I’m anxious. At the same time I’m curious.”

The Cowboys defensive line has already welcomed defensive end Anthony Spencer back from a long absence and plan to get rookie DeMarcus Lawrence back in Week Nine when he’s eligible to return from injured reserve. If Okoye is able to join them, it would only help a good Dallas defense weather the long season. The fact that it’s a possibility is remarkable by itself, though.

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Buccaneers DE Da’Quan Bowers suspended for PED violation

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers have a number of problems this year, and now they have another one.

The league announced that defensive end Da’Quan Bowers had been suspended two games for violating the league’s performance enhancing substance policy.

Bowers, a former second-round pick, has been a disappointment in the NFL. Knee injuries kept him from showing the kind of pass-rush skills he had at Clemson, and he was no lock to make the Bucs roster this year during camp.

He has 6.5 career sacks, one of them this year.

He’ll be eligible to return on Monday, November 3 following the team’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

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Cowboys release Michael Sam from practice squad

Sam AP

A lot has happened since the Rams cut defensive end Michael Sam, he languished for a few days, and then he landed on the Cowboys’ practice squad.  Out of sight and largely out of mind, Sam is once again out of an NFL job.

Per multiple reports, the Cowboys have released Sam from the practice squad.  The first openly gay player in NFL history is now free to sign with any other team’s practice squad.

Throughout the past seven weeks, he also has been available to sign with any team’s 53-man roster.  But there has been no chatter or interest in anyone doing that.

The NFL reportedly had made a couple of phone calls aimed at persuading someone to give Sam a spot on the practice squad, before the Cowboys did.  With domestic violence lingering on the NFL’s front burner, however, the league may no longer be concerned about avoiding the perception that Sam was rejected based on his sexual orientation.

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