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Latest timeline confirms that free agency could start Tuesday

-2 Reuters

At a time when it appeared that Saints quarterback Drew Brees was on track to being even more clueless than the media when it comes to pegging the start of free agency, Brees could be right on the money.

Adam Schefter of ESPN has the “latest timeline” for the return of the NFL, which he says is subject to the approval of the NFLPA*.  (It they truly have a done deal, shouldn’t they also have an agreed-to timeline?)

Per Schefter, the new league year would start at 4:00 p.m. ET on August 2, eight days from now.

Before then, however, the NFL would be back in business.  Teams would be able to sign their own free agents this afternoon.  Teams also would be permitted to begin negotiating trades, which would become official on Saturday.

Also, teams would be permitted to start signing free agents at 12:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday.  Those contracts would not become official until August 2.

Also, 10 teams would report Wednesday, 10 would report Thursday, and 10 would report Friday.  The final two teams, the Jets and Texans, would report on Sunday.

The reporting dates apparently will land 15 days before the teams’ first preseason games.  (If NFL.com hadn’t taken down the preseason schedule, we could figure out who will report when.)

Training camp officially would open on August 2, even though every team will have reported by then.

So, after six months on the roller coaster, it’s time to fasten your seat belts.

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Drew Brees reiterates Week One contract negotiation deadline

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 28:   Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints is introduced before the preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 28, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Football season essentially has begun, with the opening of camp. But Saints quarterback Drew Brees is willing to continue to entertain contract offers from the team until football season actually launches, with Week One of the regular season.

Brees reiterated the deadline for doing a new deal during Thursday comments to the media from training camp in West Virginia.

“My approach is when the season is here it’s all about the season, I don’t want to be worrying about a contract or anything else,” Brees said. “My mind will be on the preparation week to week on the next opponent. If there’s something to be done, it’s between now and the season.”

Since it’s a deadline-driven business, the safest bet is a deal will come, if at all, in the days before the regular-season opener.

“Just to clarify, nothing is adversarial,” Brees said at one point on Thursday. “I have a great relationship with Mickey Loomis and have for my entire time here. This is just that part of the business let’s call it where, obviously, conversations happen in regards to the contract it’s between my agent Tom Condon and Mickey Loomis and, obviously, I am kept abreast as to the way those conversations are going. I think there’s a process to this and it isn’t an exact science and it isn’t an exact process. We’ll see how this shakes out over the next month and a half.”

While the questions from reporters have yet to focus on the ultimate hammer Brees holds, the 43.2-million pound elephant remains in the room. If the Saints use the franchise tag on Brees for what would be the third time of  his career, he would be entitled to a 44-percent raise over his $30 million cap number for 2016.

Which translates to a tag of $43.2 million. Which also translates to a low likelihood that the team would invest so much cap and cap space in a quarterback who turns 38 in January. Which means the market would set his value next year. Which means the anticipated market would set his value now.

Which means that Condon and Loomis need to get on the same page as to what Brees would be worth on the open market in order to get on the same page as to his value moving forward. From the player’s perspective, however, his age won’t be a factor in his value.

“I don’t see any reason why I can’t play at the highest level for the next five years minimum,” Brees said. “It really comes down to how long do I want to play.”

Eventually, it also may come down to where he wants to play. Because Brees may have the ability to do what he last did in 2006: Hit the market and look for his next destination.

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Rolando McClain not on Cowboys team plane to California

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Cowboys — or at least owner Jerry Jones — have stood by Rolando McClain despite his latest suspension.

But the strange career of the former top-10 pick has taken yet another turn.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, McClain wasn’t on the Cowboys team plane to California for training camp, with no apparent explanation.

While McClain is suspended for the first 10 games of the regular season for his latest substance abuse policy violation, Jones has been in his corner throughout.

McClain was also missing for a large portion of the voluntary offseason work, which reportedly angered his coaches. Then again, Jones denied that and said coaches were lobbying for McClain’s return, so maybe he’ll make another excuse for a guy who has had plenty made for him.

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Tomlin: Bell appeal to be heard in mid-August

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell apologized to the team on Thursday for his reported missed drug tests and pending four-game suspension being a distraction, but in a meeting with reporters at the team’s training camp site Bell didn’t say much else about his situation.

That’s understandable as Bell prepares to appeal the suspension. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t want to say much about Bell’s appeal but said it’s his understanding that the hearing will be held sometime around mid-August.

That doesn’t affect the Steelers’ plans for now because the team has a reliable backup in DeAngelo Williams and because Bell is still rehabbing a knee injury.

Last week, Bell wrote on his Instagram account “I’m not gonna miss any games. Trust me.”

Thursday, Bell said he was notified of his missed test in March. He had told Pittsburgh reporters in June that he hadn’t missed or failed a test, but a recent report said he missed several drug tests.

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Geno Smith: You want to be out there, but you play cards you’re dealt

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 01:  Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets walks off the field against the Oakland Raiders during the first half of their NFL game at O.co Coliseum on November 1, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ryan Fitzpatrick is back with the Jets and coach Todd Bowles confirmed for those with any doubt that he’s still on top of the team’s depth chart at a Thursday press conference.

That pushes Geno Smith back down to No. 2 after he spent the offseason running the offense while Fitzpatrick and the Jets did their extended contract tango. Smith knew enough to not be shocked by Fitzpatrick’s signing, but the news still delivered a blow to a player who was hoping for a chance to play in Week One.

“I’m not disappointed,” Smith said, via NJ.com. “I’m kind of pissed off. But it’s not a detrimental thing. It’s not something where I’m pissed off at anyone, because we all want to be out there. We all know that one quarterback gets to go out there on Day 1. That just adds fuel to the fire, but not in a negative way. I don’t want that to become like a headline or something like that, because it’s not what I’m trying to say. It’s more as a competitor, as a quarterback, knowing what I’m capable of, and really believing in myself, knowing the work that I put in over the offseason. You want to be out there. But you’ve just got to kind of play the cards that you’re dealt.”

Smith was asked if he was upset about being a backup and said he wasn’t and “explained [his feelings] very clearly” about wanting to be on the field.

During his press conference, Bowles shot down speculation that Smith’s roster spot could be in jeopardy because the Jets have four quarterbacks on the roster. He added that Smith would remain Fitzpatrick’s backup unless Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg put up “great” performances that forced a change in the order.

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Schneider’s new deal dumps Green Bay clause

920x920 AP

The prior contract applicable to Seahawks G.M. John Schneider reportedly included a provision allowing the Wisconsin native and Packers shareholder to leave to become the G.M. in Green Bay. Schneider, without confirming that his prior deal had that term, says his new one doesn’t.

No,” Schneider told reporters on Thursday, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. “There’s been lots of whispers about a lot of things and it’s a small league, and I’m from a small home town.”

The clause largely had become irrelevant, given that all signs point to Eliot Wolf becoming the successor to Ted Thompson in Green Bay. But if giving up the ability to walk helped get Schneider the deal he wanted, it had a lot more value than the non-stock stock certificate he previously bought from the Packers.

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Ladarius Green starts on PUP list for Steelers

144203978 Getty Images

With Heath Miller retired, the Steelers need a competent tight end to enhance their offense. They signed Ladarius Green to be that guy.

The official launch of the Ladarius Era has been delayed. Via multiple reports, Green has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list, with an ankle injury. He had offseason surgery on that ankle.

Receiver Shakim Phillips also in on the PUP list, after having a sports hernia repaired. Defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler begins on the shelf due to failing the conditioning test.

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Fitzpatrick deal has phony second year, for cap purposes

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 27:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets runs onto the field against the New England Patriots before their game at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Often when surmising, I surmise incorrectly. Last night, I surmised that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s new one-year contract has a phony second or third year, in order to shrink the 2016 cap hit below $12 million.

For change, I surmised correctly.

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reports that Fitzpatrick’s contract covers two years, but that the second year will evaporate. With a $10 million signing bonus and $2 million base salary, Fitzpatrick’s cap hit will be $7 million this year and $5 million next year.

This means that, if he’s not on the team in 2017, he’ll count for at least $5 million. If he is on the team, he’ll count for $5 million plus whatever his cap hit is on his next contract.

He also could count for up to another $3 million next year, if he hits the various triggers based on playing time and postseason success. The Jets need to win the Super Bowl before Fitzpatrick gets the full $3 million.

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Thomas Rawls, Jimmy Graham won’t practice on first day of camp

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 13: Running back Thomas Rawls #34 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball against defensive back Shareece Wright #35 of the Baltimore Ravens and free safety Kendrick Lewis #23 of the Baltimore Ravens in the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Earlier this month, Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls said that he would “most definitely” be ready to go for the start of training camp.

Rawls may feel ready to go, but the Seahawks aren’t going to turn him loose just yet. General Manager John Schneider said, via Curtis Crabtree of PFT, that Rawls will not take part in the team’s first practice of camp on Saturday.

Schneider said the same of tight end Jimmy Graham, who tore his patellar tendon last season. It wouldn’t be a surprising destination coming off of that injury, if only to make sure that Graham isn’t trying to do too much too soon. Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz suffered a calf injury in his return from a patellar tendon tear last year and never saw the field during the regular season.

“We’re going to be very, very careful with those guys,” Schneider said. “We’re still trying to decide if we’re going to put them on PUP [physically unable to perform]. If we’re not, we’re going to be really careful with them.”

The Seahawks said all offseason that they expect both players to be ready for Week One. Schneider said that remains their “understanding” with camp about to open.

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Jimmy Garoppolo perfects Patriot way, at press conferences

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24:  Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots take the field prior to the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s unclear whether Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will thrive in his upcoming role as starting quarterback for the first four games of the regular season. He’s already thriving when it comes to the team’s preferred approach at press conferences.

He said pretty much what would be expected, without really saying anything. He’s excited for the chance to play. He’s more comfortable in his third training camp. It’s awesome to throw to the team’s great receivers. It’s not his place to say how much he will or should play in the preseason with the starting offense.

Garoppolo got stumped a couple of times regarding advice he’s gotten from Brady, vowing to “get back to you.” Chances are he won’t, unless Brady specifically authorizes whatever Garoppolo would say.

It’s also possible Brady has given Garoppolo no advice. Why would the veteran try to help the guy who, if he’s anything like Brady was at that age, wants to send Brady to the bench and into retirement? Twice since 2011, the team has used a third-round pick and a second-round pick on a quarterback. Those selections could have been used on players that would actually be, you know, playing. At some level, that has to irritate Brady.

It’s impossible to know that or anything else about Brady at this point because, to date, he hasn’t been made available to the media. He likely won’t be until the weekly obligation to speak arises — which for him won’t happen until the days preceding his debut, in Week Five.

Until then, get used to Garoppolo perfecting the Patriot Way of saying something while saying nothing.

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Victor Cruz avoids the PUP list

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Getty Images

The long-awaited return of wide receiver Victor Cruz drew a little bit closer on Thursday.

According to multiple reports from Giants camp, Cruz went through the team’s conditioning test without any problems and he has avoided the physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp. That means he’ll be part of the active roster for Friday’s opening practice and should take part, although memories of last year mean that he will probably be taking things slowly for a while.

Cruz has not played in a game since tearing his patellar tendon against the Eagles in Week Six of the 2014 season. He avoided the PUP list last summer, but a calf injury suffered in camp and aggravated during another attempted return wound up keeping him off the field for the entire season.

The length of Cruz’s layoff and severity of his injuries create some uncertainty about what kind of player he’ll be for the Giants this season. Odell Beckham is the clear No. 1 and rookie Sterling Shepard has gotten positive reviews for his early work with the team, so things should be looking good for the Giants passing game if Cruz can be anything close to the player he was before his career was interrupted.

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Browns shut Desmond Bryant down for the season

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 11: Defensive end Desmond Bryant #92 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates with outside linebacker Paul Kruger #99 of the Cleveland Browns after making a tackle in the first quarter of a game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns defensive lineman Desmond Bryant was holding out hope, though there never really was that much to begin with.

The team announced Thursday that he was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list, officially ending his season. They signed tight end David Reaves to fill his roster spot.

Bryant initially said he hoped to return by the end of the season, saying he was “absolutely hopeful” even after tearing his pectoral muscle while lifting weights.

But the reality of a four- to six-month rehab meant that was never likely, and now the Browns will have to adjust without their 2015 sack leader.

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Bengals place Burfict on NFI list, sign Jimmy Wilson

Vontaze Burfict AP

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said this week that linebacker Vontaze Burfict won’t be playing in any of the team’s preseason games, explaining that there’s “no reason for us to expose him to injury” because of how important he is to the defense.

Burfict is also suspended for the first three games of the season, so the Bengals will need to get other linebackers ready to play this summer. Those other linebackers could be seeing some more reps in early training camp practices as well.

The Bengals announced Thursday that Burfict has been placed on the non-football injury list, which leaves him ineligible to practice until he’s activated. The Bengals didn’t specify the injury, although Burfict has a history of knee trouble, and Geoff Hobson of the team’s website reports it’s not believed to be a serious issue.

The Bengals also announced that they have signed veteran safety Jimmy Wilson as a free agent. Wilson spent last year with the Chargers after playing in Miami for the first four years of his career. He signed with the Chiefs in April, but was released in May.

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Kyle Long in boot after hurting calf

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 06:   Kyle Long #75 of the Chicago Bears blocks  Aaron Lynch #59 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at Soldier Field on December 6, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Linebacker Leonard Floyd wasn’t the only Bears player who created an injury concern during Thursday’s opening practice of training camp.

Right guard Kyle Long got hurt near the end of practice and there were multiple reports that he was in a walking boot after practice. The team is calling it a left calf injury.

The general consensus among Bears reporters is that the injury is not a serious one, although Long will likely miss some practice time to help ensure that it doesn’t become a bigger issue at this early point in the schedule.

The Bears have moved Long back to guard this year after he kicked outside to tackle in 2015. That move didn’t stop him from making his third Pro Bowl in as many professional seasons, but Long’s preference was to be on the interior. The Bears need him healthy at any position to get the most out of their offensive line, which will make it wise to be sure all is well with the calf before he returns to action.

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Jason Pierre-Paul: My right hand feels like my left hand

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 20:  Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants in action against  Mike Remmers #74 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul saw the additions that the team made to the defense in free agency and he’s heard the predictions of better results this season, but he said Thursday that he’s aware “we don’t know” what the unit will be at this point in time.

One thing that would help the unit achieve their goals would be a return to form from Pierre-Paul after he missed half of last season while recovering from the fireworks accident that mangled his right hand. Pierre-Paul had some good moments, but wearing a club on his right hand limited his ability to make plays when he got to the quarterback. He’s not wearing the club this year and says everything feels like it is back to normal on the field.

“My hand feels great,” Pierre-Paul said, via ESPN.com. “No complaining, no nothing. I’ve been training hard, been getting after it and getting ready to play some football. The club isn’t going to be an issue or anything. My right hand feels like my left hand. I don’t have to prove anything. It’s free will. I know I don’t need nothing to go out there to protect myself. I feel comfortable in using my hand and striking with it and hitting with it. I’m very excited to show people, ‘Hey, nothing has changed.'”

The Giants will be thrilled if that turns out to be the case because the pre-fireworks Pierre-Paul was an integral part of their defense for most of his first five seasons with the team.

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Denard Robinson “blessed” to be alive after his car crashed into a pond

Denard Robinson, Malliciah Goodman AP

Jaguars running back Denard Robinson told reporters Thursday that he’s lucky to be alive after falling asleep at the wheel and ending up having to be pulled by police officers out of his car after it crashed into a pond.

Traffic cam video released by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department showed Robinson’s car go through a red light and across traffic before landing in the pond around 4 a.m. on July 3.

I feel blessed, because it could have been a situation where I wasn’t talking to you right now,” Robinson said. “The situation could have been way worse. I could’ve hurt somebody or killed somebody, so I’m truly blessed that nothing happened to nobody. I came out with no scratches and my passenger was the same way.”

Robinson was cited for careless driving. Robinson told reporters Thursday he fell asleep at the light after “a long day” and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The police report said both Robinson and his passenger were asleep even as officers tried to help them out of the car.

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