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Warren Moon sees racial bias regarding Cam Newton

WarrenMoonGetty Getty Images

Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon has been advising former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton as he prepares to enter the NFL.  And Moon believes that much of the intense scrutiny and criticism that Newton has experienced arises from racism.

Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com spoke with Moon about Newton.  Freeman says that Moon was “extremely angry” regarding the manner in which Newton is being treated.

“A lot of the criticism he’s receiving is unfortunate and racially based,” Moon told Freeman.  “I thought we were all past this.  I don’t see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony.  He’s being held to different standards from white quarterbacks.  I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we’re not.

“Of course there is racism in every walk of society.  We’ve made a lot of progress in this country. But racism is still there.  I just thought in the sports arena we were beyond it.  I think the way Cam is being treated shows we’re not. . . .

“The thing that makes me laugh is the question of can [Newton] come out of the spread offense?  Can he run a pro offense?  Colt McCoy came out of the spread offense and very few people raised that issue about him.  So did Sam Bradford.  Same thing.  Very few questions asking if Bradford could run a pro offense.  Some of these questions about Cam are more about his intellect.  It’s blatant racism, some of it.”

We’re not prepared to go quite that far, in large part because we vividly recall the criticism that was heaped last year upon the ultimate spread-offense, one-read-and-then-run-the-ball quarterback, Tim Tebow.  Even after a year of NFL seasoning, the Denver Broncos hardly seem sold on Tebow’s ability to be a traditional NFL quarterback.

Freeman explains that Moon was especially upset about the perception that Newton is a phony.

“You can’t be fake and win a national championship,” Moon said.  “The players will see through it.  He’s won at every level.  He took that Auburn team to the national title and that team wasn’t as talented as some other teams in the SEC.

“Just turn on the film and watch what he does on game day.  Then if you have concerns just spend time with him.  Go around the kid himself.  Spend as much time as you need around him.  You can only fake so much.”

But the perception of phoniness knows no racial boundaries.  Last year, Tebow became one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports, with plenty of people thinking that Tebow’s decision to wrap himself in religious and goodness is more calculated and forced than natural and genuine.  And who can forget the relentless criticism of Jimmy Clausen, who was perceived as a bad teammate with a sense of entitlement — and who slid to the middle of round two in part because of it?

Newton enters the NFL amid many questions and concerns.  He allegedly stole a laptop while playing at Florida.  He has been caught up in a pay-to-play scandal that, with tonight’s HBO report regarding other far less accomplished players at Auburn getting paid, will likely inch back toward the front burner.  Newton has dubbed himself “an entertainer and an icon.”  Moon himself has admitted that Newton at times puts “the cart before the horse” when talking about himself.

Also, Newton struggled at the Scouting Combine, and his Pro Day workout was a step below the T-shirt-and-shorts grand slam that quarterback Pro Days so often become.  While Newton won the Heisman and a national title, he didn’t have the kind of clearly dominant performance on a huge stage that propelled other quarterbacks to the top of the draft.

All that said, Newton surely will be drafted earlier than Tebow or Clausen were picked, and well before white quarterbacks like Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet, who has absorbed plenty of criticism this year, too, based on unsubstantiated rumors of drug use.  Indeed, Newton still could be the first quarterback — and the first player — taken in the draft.

That said, are some of the people criticizing and/or rooting against Newton motivated by race?  Undoubtedly.  On balance, however, Newton finds himself in the unenviable position of being a high-profile player at a high-profile position that invites a high level of scrutiny in the months preceding the draft.  Sure, Blaine Gabbert has received far less poking and prodding — but that’s because his college career was far more muted and unremarkable.  Newton is living the reality of life under an electron microscope, the same device that has hovered over Tebow and Clausen and that will be used to study every big-name, well-known rookie quarterback, for as long as there are big-name, well-known rookie quarterbacks.

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Jadeveon Clowney to visit Falcons next week

Jadeveon Clowney AP

Back in February, Jadeveon Clowney said that he would love it if the Falcons traded up from the sixth pick to select him in May’s draft.

He’ll have the chance to make the case in person next week. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Clowney will visit with the Falcons as Atlanta tries to find defensive players who can help jolt their unit back to life after a subpar 2013 season.

The Falcons are meeting with several other players who could help on that front, which is probably a good thing because their chances of landing Clowney may not be great. Plenty of people think he’ll be off the board when the Texans hand in their top selection and neither they nor the Rams, who pick second, may be willing to pass up a chance at landing a player widely regarded as the most talented player in this year’s draft.

That leaves Atlanta to try to pay the heavy price it will take to get those teams to change their mind or move in a different direction come May 8. With tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews on the radar as well as their defensive needs, the Falcons should be able to fill a hole even if Clowney’s desire to wind up in Atlanta winds up unfulfilled.

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Falcons going to Auburn to see Greg Robinson

2014 NFL Combine Getty Images

As it stands, the Falcons have the sixth pick in the draft, though at this point, everyone is conditioned to expect them to move up.

Their need for impact is such on both lines, that they’re making sure they know the top players on the board, just in case.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, they’re going to Auburn today to meet with tackle Greg Robinson.

Since it’s on-campus. they can work him out, instead of the meet-and-greet that happens at a team facility.

Robinson’s athleticism would make the Falcons offense instantly better, as protecting Matt Ryan has been a challenge at times for them in the past. That would allow them to move Sam Baker either to right tackle or guard, upgrading another spot that needs it.

But it would also be a mild surprise if Robinson lasted until the time the Falcons pick, hence the constant speculation about them moving up.

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Bills stadium sessions could be subject to open meetings law

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As the powers-that-be in Western New York begin the process of potentially identifying a solution to the Buffalo Bills’ stadium needs, one politician insists that the public deserves a seat at the table.  Or at least a spot in the room.

Per the Buffalo News, New York Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns believes the state’s Open Meetings Law applies to the sessions.

Those opposed to open meetings cite the importance of discretion and strategy.

“We’ll be dealing with potential sites for a stadium, and don’t want to forecast that because it could lead to land speculation and possibly hike prices,” Deputy County Executive Richard M. Tobe told the Buffalo News.

Kearns nevertheless plans to introduce legislation aimed at ensuring the meetings are open.  If he’s right that the law already contemplates that the meetings will be open, he wouldn’t need new legislation; he’d merely need a lawyer.

Regardless, it’s another twist for a process that could go a long way toward determining whether the Bills wind up in a new city.  The local urgency could be enough to ensure that, one way or another, the meetings will proceed in secrecy so that a plan can be formed and executed in the most efficient and effective way possible.

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Brian Orakpo still hoping for long-term deal

Brian Orakpo AP

Linebacker Brian Orakpo stands to make $11.45 million for the 2014 season after signing the franchise tag the Redskins used on him this offseason, but he’s still hoping that he’ll wind up signing another deal with the team before July 15.

That’s the deadline to sign a multi-year deal and Orakpo said Wednesday that remains his goal for the offseason. While speaking to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Orakpo indicated that talks General Manager Bruce Allen on such a deal are moving slowly while reiterating his desire.

“We’ll see. I can’t speak for Bruce and whoever’s in charge from that standpoint,” Orakpo said. “Absolutely I want something done long term, but everything will come into play eventually. I’m here right now, I don’t want to be a distraction.”

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said earlier this offseason that the team wouldn’t mind letting Orakpo play out the tag and then revisit his future after the season, so there may not be much for Orakpo to do to convince the Redskins to change course before the middle of July. If that’s the case, 2014 will be a second straight 16-game audition for the linebacker.

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Troy Aikman remains concerned about Tony Romo’s back

aikmanromo AP

When Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered a back injury at the end of the 2013 season, former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said Romo’s bad back should concern the Cowboys. From all indications, Romo has made good progress in recovery. But Aikman remains concerned anyway.

Aikman told the Cowboys’ website that he doesn’t think a quarterback really knows if his back is strong enough to withstand the pounding of playing in the NFL until the season starts. Aikman knows that first hand, having had back surgery in his own NFL career.

“I came back in a relatively short period of time because of when I had my surgery, so he’s at least afforded more time to get ready,” Aikman said. “But having said that, two back surgeries in less than a year at his age, I would be a bit concerned. I’m hopeful that he’s able to come back – everybody is. This team won’t be the same if he’s not able to. I anticipate that he will come back. But to say that, ‘Hey, he’s ahead of schedule and everything’s going fine,’ I’m not sure how you can really measure that here in April.”

Aikman retired when he was 34, and Romo will turn 34 on Monday. Aikman has said his back injury played a significant role in forcing him to retire. The Cowboys still hope Romo has several good years left in him. But it’s easy to see why Aikman wonders just how healthy a 34-year-old quarterback coming off two back surgeries will be.

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Taylor Mays working way back from shoulder dislocation and labrum tear

Joique Bell, Taylor Mays AP

The Cincinnati Bengals lost safety Taylor Mays for the season when he suffered a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder last October.

Mays dislocated his shoulder when attempting to tackle Bilal Powell in a game against the New York Jets. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, the shoulder dislocation tore Mays’ labrum in two places and it took 90 minutes to get put the shoulder back into its socket.

Mays had begun to find a role in the Cincinnati defense as a linebacker in the Bengals’ nickel package before the injury. Instead, his season ended and set forth a lengthy rehabilitation process.

“The hardest part was I tore it where the biceps tendon attaches, so in my rehab process, they were like, ‘No, you can’t do bicep curls,’” Mays said. “As a guy with meathead tendencies, not being able to do bicep curls – that was rough.”

The Bengals re-signed Mays to a one-year deal in March. Mays says he expects to participate in the team’s offseason program which kicks off next week. He estimates the shoulder is close to 90 percent healed, which should put on pace to be back to full strength by the start of training camp in July.

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49ers turmoil could help get Harbaugh what he wants

Harbaugh Getty Images

The 49ers’ offseason started in rocky fashion, as the tension between coach Jim Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke bubbled over.  The drama became obvious even before the season ended, via the reporting of Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.

As Harbaugh moves toward the fourth of five years of his contract with the team, he hasn’t received a new deal.  Recent turmoil unrelated to the coach but directly arising from several of the team’s players could help Harbaugh get what he wants, for several reasons.

First, the 49ers desperately need some good news right now.  Securing Harbaugh for the long haul would accomplish that.

Of course, that could be bad news for the folks in the front office who reportedly have a hard time getting along with the ultra-competitive Harbaugh.  To the extent that reports of friction between Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke are true, giving Harbaugh the long-term deal he wants could also mean replacing Baalke.

Second, someone bears the blame for draft picks that have been devoted to guys who have gotten into trouble or who have ended up being busts.  Each of the first three men picked by Baalke — linebacker Aldon Smith, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and cornerback Chris Culliver — have found themselves in awkward situations, to say the least.  (Kaepernick has not yet been arrested or charged for whatever it was that happened earlier this month in Miami, and he may never be.)

The fifth-round pick in 2011, guard Daniel Kilgore, also has an arrest this year, for public intoxication.  (This week, the charge was dismissed.)

The first two players selected in 2012 haven’t done anything wrong.  But they also haven’t done anything good.  First-round receiver A.J. Jenkins is long gone, and second-round running back LaMichael James has landed on the trading block.

It’s not publicly known whether Harbaugh supported or opposed any of those selections.  He could bear some of the same blame as Baalke.  Harbaugh likewise could be basking in vindication as to one or more of the players that Baalke wanted but Harbaugh perhaps didn’t.

Regardless, Baalke had the final say, which means that Baalke gets the bulk of the blame.  Which makes Harbaugh look better in comparison and could nudge the organization between giving him the money he wants and hiring a G.M. who will work in conjunction with Harbaugh to find players who will produce at a high level and stay out of trouble.

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Report: Arbitrator rules DeSean Jackson owes Drew Rosenhaus over $500,000

DeSean Jackson, Corey Webster AP

New Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson will have to allocate some of the money from his new contract with Washington to pay off a debt to his former representation.

According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, an arbitrator ruled Tuesday that Jackson owes $516,415 in back loans and fees to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Rosenhaus filed the grievance against Jackson with the NFL Players Association last June after he was dropped by Jackson. The grievance claimed Jackson owed Rosenhaus more than $700,000 in loans and fees from his tenure representing Jackson.

Jackson intends on appealing the decision by the arbitrator. He is now represented by Joel Segal, who negotiated Jackson’s new contract in Washington.

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Jaguars re-sign WR Mike Brown

San Diego Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Jaguars have re-signed wide receiver Mike Brown, an exclusive rights free agent, according to the NFL’s Wednesday transactions.

Brown was third on the Jaguars in receiving yards (446) and fourth in catches (32) in 2013. He also hauled in two touchdown passes. Brown appeared in 11 games, starting six.

A third-year pro, Brown (5-10, 200) played quarterback at Liberty. The Jaguars signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and moved him to wide receiver. The 24-year-old Brown was added to the Jaguars’ roster late in his rookie season, and in his second NFL campaign, he was Jacksonville’s fourth-most targeted player on offense, with 56 passes thrown his way.

Brown is one of 12 wide receivers on the Jaguars’ roster — a count that does not include Justin Blackmon, who will have to be reinstated after his November 2013 suspension.

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Judge Brody has not rejected concussion settlement a second time, yet

Gavel AP

A document that appeared on the federal court docket in Philadelphia on Wednesday but that was misunderstood by the media resulted in a flurry of headlines proclaiming that Judge Anita Brody has rejected the proposed settlement in the concussion lawsuit a second time.

She hasn’t.  (Yet.)

The document, we’re told, merely reflected internal court housekeeping and not a new decision that an attempt to change Judge Brody’s mind has failed.

Of course, that could still happen.  Judge Brody could decide that the second attempt by the lawyers to persuade her to give preliminary approval to the settlement fails to alleviate her concerns.  It hasn’t happened yet, however.

Judge Brody rejected the settlement primarily due to her concern that the $675 million compensation fund created by the $765 million settlement won’t last long enough to satisfy all potential claims.  The easy solution would be for the NFL to guarantee that, if the money runs out at some point in the future, the NFL will replenish the pot as needed.  If, after all, the NFL has a high degree of confidence that the funds will last, the NFL should have no qualms about satisfying any deficit.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs continue to wait.  It’s been nearly eight months since the deal was negotiated, and the settlement process likely will consume another eight months, or more.  They agreed to settle the case in part because it meant that much-needed funds would be made available to them sooner rather than later.

Sooner quickly has become later.  And it likely will be a lot later until the settlement is resolved.

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Report: 49ers “shopping” LaMichael James

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The 49ers are reportedly willing to deal a recent second-round pick.

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers are “shopping” reserve tailback LaMichael James.

An Oregon product, the 24-year-old James has attempted just 39 regular season rushes since being drafted in 2012. He returned 23 punts and 12 kickoffs for the Niners last season.

According to the Bee, James has “made it clear” he wants more work at running back; it’s unclear whether that has prompted the 49ers to be open to moving in him in trade. Barrows also suggests James could conceivably be used in a package if the Niners were to move up in the draft.

The 49ers have James, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Jewel Hampton in reserve behind starting tailback Frank Gore. Were James to be moved, the 49ers could look to add another back. As Barrows notes, the 49ers have met with UCF tailback Storm Johnson and will meet with Towson running back Terrance West.

Including James, only three of the Niners’ seven 2012 draft picks remain with the club, with first-round pick A.J. Jenkins shipped to Kansas City after just one season.

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Dollars suggest Chris Johnson won’t be a role player

CJ AP

On the surface, it’s easy to assume that Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson will share the load in the New York backfield.  The numbers suggest strongly that Johnson will be the lead dog.

Johnson will earn $4 million in 2014.  Ivory will earn $1 million.  While that doesn’t mean Johnson will have four times the touches as Ivory, it indicates that Johnson has greater value — and in turn that he’ll have the greater role.

Also in the mix is Bilal Powell, who has a base salary of $1.4 million this year.  Mike Goodson remains on the books for another $1 million, but he’s likely the odd man out given the arrival of Johnson.

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Sidney Rice returns to the Seahawks

Sidney Rice AP

It’s been a good week for receiver Sidney Rice.

On Monday, he received clearance to return to football activities from Dr. James Andrews.  On Wednesday, he agreed to terms to return to the team that cut him earlier this year, the Seattle Seahawks.

Rice broke the news himself on Twitter.  Per a league source, it’s a one-year deal.  We’re told the deal pays more than the veteran minimum, but the specific amount isn’t currently known.

The move comes less than three years after Rice signed a long-term deal that was due to pay him $8.5 million this year.  He’ll undoubtedly make much less than that.

The Seahawks had remained interested in bringing back Rice.  News of a visit to the Jets may have been the nudge that the Seahawks needed to close the deal.

The Giants, Saints, and Panthers all had some interest in Rice.

He appeared in 33 games during three seasons with the Seahawks, with 748 receiving yards in 2012.  Last year, he tore an ACL in late October.

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Dwayne Bowe pays fine, resolves case stemming from pot arrest

Dwayne Bowe AP

Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was arrested in November for marijuana possession, has paid a fine and pleaded guilty to amended charges to resolve the matter.

Bowe pleaded guilty today to defective equipment and littering and paid $610 in fines.

“Like others charged with speeding and possessing marijuana for the first time, Mr. Bowe pleaded guilty to amended charges,” city prosecutor Amy Ashefford told the Kansas City Star, adding that Bowe was treated no better or worse than anyone facing similar charges.

Bowe said in January that he thought he was racially profiled, but last week he released a statement saying the police had treated him fairly.

Now the question is how the league office will treat Bowe. A marijuana offense typically results in a one-game suspension, although littering and “defective equipment” may not be enough to get Bowe in any type of trouble. Still, the fact that this case started with a marijuana arrest could result in Bowe being placed in the league’s substance-abuse program.

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RB-needy teams left to focus on the draft

Carlos Hyde

There has been much said about running backs having a tough go of it in free agency, and in case we had forgotten, we were reminded with Chris Johnson taking more than a week to find a new team.

Johnson, who was PFT’s No. 34-ranked free agent, signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Jets on Wednesday. And this was a good deal, given the market this offseason, as colleague Mike Florio pointed out.

In all, it took Johnson nine days from his official release from Tennessee to land a new gig. Contrast this with DeSean Jackson, who had a deal with Washington in three days. And Darrelle Revis had an agreement with New England in but a few hours after his departure from Tampa Bay.

With Johnson signed, there are no starter-caliber tailbacks left in free agency. There are some decent complementary players available, with Michael Bush (ex-Bears) and Ronnie Brown (Chargers) two of the better options left, per Rotoworld’s rankings. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown earned a positive grade as a pass blocker in 2013, but he played just 157 snaps, and he had a negative grade as a rusher, as did Bush, who’s gained less than four yards per carry in each of the last three seasons.

In short, teams needing a running back are probably left to add one in the draft. The Titans, Browns, Jaguars, Bears and Vikings are among the clubs who could use at least one more tailback. However, of these teams, only the Titans may need a starter. The Browns (Ben Tate) and Jaguars (Toby Gerhart) signed young, starter-caliber veterans in free agency, while the Bears (Matt Forte) and Vikings (Adrian Peterson) just need understudies for their established lead backs.

The Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Rams, Ravens, Redskins, Steelers and Texans are other teams who seem logical contenders to bring in another back.

The question is, who takes the first tailback in May, and in which round? In his most recent mock draft, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has no backs going in Round One. Also, NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki has just one back – Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde — listed as a potential first-round selection.

In an offseason that won’t be remembered as an especially glorious one for the running backs of the world, the draft looms as the final act. Not getting any stage time on the draft’s first night would be another low point.

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