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Week 17 Monday 10-pack

Green Bay Packers quarterback Flynn hands off the ball against the Detroit Lions during the second half of their NFL football game in Green Bay Reuters

It’s the first Monday of the year, and it’s the last Monday 10-pack of the year.

I miss the days when football season ended before December 31.

As a setup goes, that’s all I got.  Let’s get on to the 10 takes from a 32-team season-ending Sunday.

1.  Packers should strongly consider franchising Flynn.

In 2008, after the first annual Brett Favre retirement, the Packers drafted two quarterbacks.  The gesture was interpreted by some (i.e., by us) as a bolting of the door behind Favre and the blocking of it with large pieces of furniture.

Brian Brohm, who entered the 2007 college football season as one of the top prospects, slid to the Packers in round two, pick 56.  LSU’s Matt Flynn was an afterthought, with pick number 209 in round seven.  Four seasons later, Brohm is long gone — and Flynn showed on Sunday that he’ll be the hottest commodity in the 2012 free-agent market.

If he gets there.

Like Matt Cassel of the Patriots in 2009, the Packers should think about slapping the franchise tag on Flynn, in order to trade him to a quarterback-needy team.  With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the best options in the draft, teams like the Redskins and Dolphins and Browns and maybe the Seahawks will be clamoring for a proven commodity like Flynn.

The risk, of course, is that Flynn would sign the franchise tag but no serious offers would come for his services, given that the starting point for a long-term deal would be the one-year guaranteed salary of $14.5 million or so in 2012.  If that would happen, the Packers would be stuck with a backup earning roughly $6.5 million more next year than starter Aaron Rodgers, who is due to earn a base salary of $8 million next season.

The other side of the coin is that Flynn will walk away with plenty of coins in his pockets — and zero compensation to the team that transformed him from a seventh-round pick into a guy who’ll be the most coveted quarterback not named Luck or Griffin.

2.  Rex should be on the hot seat.

Though it’s too early to fire Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has two appearances in the AFC title game in three seasons as a head coach, he deserves the pressure that goes along with the accountability for guaranteeing a Super Bowl win (and, even more importantly in New York, a win over the Giants) and failing to deliver.  Only so many times can a head coach protect his players and assistants by saying “put the blame on me” until someone decides to put the blame on him.

Yes, his players seem to still believe.  More importantly, the owner seems to still believe.  But the players and the owner may believe a little less in 2012 — especially if Rex emerges from a disappointing 2011 season (in light of the expectations fueled by Ryan) as brash and bold as ever.

Beyond the boundaries of his team, Rex has become a caricature.  (Some would say he already was one.)  If that sense ever makes its way into the locker room, and eventually it should, it’ll be time to move on.

Apart from all the words, it’s one specific action that could, as a practical matter, put Rex in a position to be coaching for his job in 2012.  The misguided decision to make receiver Santonio Holmes a captain, given that Holmes spent much of the year not acting like a captain, could come back to haunt Ryan.

Arguably, it already is.  And now Rex has a mess on his hands, especially since a guy who spent much of Sunday acting like he didn’t want to be with the Jets signed a long-term, big-money deal before the season.

3.  Steelers fleeced Jets on Holmes.

Speaking of Santonio, Steelers fans didn’t care much for the abrupt decision to trade Holmes to New York for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  With a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy coming on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger’s misadventures in Milledgeville, it was perceived that the Steelers’ decision was driven less by football strategy and more by public relations sensitivities.

But the Steelers were looking ahead.  With Holmes due to miss the first four games of the 2010 season and one wake-n-bake away from a one-year suspension, the Steelers opted to unload a potential headache — especially since the Steelers knew they’d never tie their hands by giving Holmes a huge contract.

And so the Steelers didn’t simply get a fifth-round pick.  The Steelers also received the peace of mind that comes from dumping a wideout who would have been a major pain in the butt for the balance of 2010, and who simply no longer factored into their plans.

Meanwhile, the Steelers traded that fifth-round pick to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick.  And with that sixth-round pick the Steelers found their 2011 MVP in round six of the same draft.  Receiver Antonio Brown has become almost everything Holmes was as a player, without creating any of the headaches or other issues that go hand in hand with having Holmes on the team.

Advantage Steelers.

4.  Texans-Bengals game could be the key to the AFC playoffs.

I’ve been concerned throughout much of the 2011 season that, once the Texans get to the postseason, a lack of playoff experience would keep them from being successful.  But their first opponent is the Bengals, a team with young players having no playoff experience and, by all appearances, no players having any positive playoff experiences.

So the Texans, who beat the Bengals last month after trailing 16-3 at the half and 19-10 after three quarters, will have a very good shot at holding off the No. 6 seed.  Taking a broader look at the AFC field, the outcome of that game could have a huge bearing on the determination of the eventual conference champion.

If Houston holds serve at home, it will be time for a return to Baltimore, where the Ravens’ eight regular-season wins included a trouncing of the Texans.  The Steelers, after most likely beating Denver, will head to New England.

Though Baltimore would have to face one of those two potent teams (either Pittsburgh at home, where the Ravens won 35-7 in Week One or the Patriots in New England, where the Ravens won in the playoffs two years ago, 33-14), the Ravens wouldn’t have to play both of them.  Which, for the Ravens, is nice.

If, in contrast, the Bengals upset the Texans, Cincinnati would head to Foxboro — and Pittsburgh would return to Baltimore with a burst of momentum and a shot at becoming the latest wild-card winner to catch a division rival flat-footed after a bye week and knock them out of the playoffs.  If Baltimore manages to beat the Steelers for a third time this year, the reward would be a trip to New England.

The converse is true for the Pats.  A win by the Bengals keeps New England from having to play both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  If Houston wins, the Patriots would have to face a Steelers team that gave New England one of its three 2011 losses before inviting the Ravens back to town.

One way or the other, the outcome of Saturday’s game will make the path to Indy considerably easier for New England or Baltimore, by sending the Steelers to one place or the other.

5.  Crossroads for Daniel Snyder.

The Redskins became the property of Daniel Snyder in 1999.  In the 13 seasons since then, Snyder has employed (excluding interim hires) six head coaches.  Other than Snyder’s boyhood hero, Joe Gibbs, no coach has made it more than two seasons on the job.

Mike Shanahan has just completed his second season on the job.  Recently, Shanahan has been subtly justifying his two losing seasons by explaining that much work needed to be done to improve the bad team he inherited.  And while there’s no indication that Shanahan will be fired, there likewise was no indication that the end was coming three years ago for Shanahan in Denver.

The bigger question for Snyder is whether he’s willing to stay the course not only now but after the 2012 season.  If Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen position themselves to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the draft, it would be foolish to give Shanahan only one year to work with the new quarterback.

And so Snyder needs to realize that, by deciding to keep Shanahan now, Snyder essentially is deciding to keep Shanahan for 2013 — and possibly for 2014.

6.  Another Manning/Leaf dilemma coming?

Speaking (twice now) of Luck and Griffin, what once was a one-man show at the top of the draft quickly has become another Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf conundrum.  On Sunday’s Football Night In America, former Colts coach Tony Dungy explained that Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has shown a willingness to go against conventional wisdom in the draft, taking Edgerrin James in 1999 over Ricky Williams and Dwight Freeney over Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

Dungy even said he’d personally lean toward Griffin, the Heisman winner and architect of a 67-point explosion in Baylor’s bowl win.

Luck still has one more chance to create some separation, when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Despite the obsession over measurables and the things a guy can do when not wearing pads, scouts seem to be influenced heavily by performances on the big stage.

What Luck does with it could ultimately determine whether Luck and Griffin will become another Manning and Leaf dilemma, which despite being a no-brainer in hindsight was a much closer call in 1998.

7.  Pay the Cruz.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz has made, in two seasons, the unlikely climb from undrafted free agent to superstar.  Nearly as shrewd as the Giants’ decision to give him a chance was their decision to sign him to a three-year contract.

And so Cruz remains contractually obligated to show up for mandatory offseason workouts and training camp in 2012, despite being slated to earn a paltry $490,000.

But the Giants need to send a message to the locker room that stellar play will be rewarded.  While they could force Cruz to continue to prove himself — and to bear the injury risk — for the final year of his rookie deal and a season as a restricted free agent, the best move would be to find a way to pay him a fair salary that reflects not only his skills and abilities but also the contributions he made during a season that seemed destined for failure again.

In each of the last two games, a long-yardage catch-and-run from Cruz gave the Giants the upper hand.  It’s only right to put a lot more money in the guy’s pockets.

8.  Broncos should get Quinn ready to play Sunday.

Tebowmania landed with a thud 15 days ago, with the Patriots providing the rest of the league with the blueprint for turning the page on the NFL’s flavor of the month.

As a result, Tim Tebow has played worse than poorly the last two weeks, with as many turnovers against the Bills and Chiefs (six) as Tebow had in his 10 prior games combined.

Enter the Steelers, who have made crafted their legacy over the past two decades by methodically building a lead and then gradually choking off the opposing offense.

As a result, if the Broncos want to have a realistic shot at advancing, it may be prudent to be ready to pull off a Rocky-style switch to southpaw, by switching from the southpaw to Brady Quinn.

This isn’t a long-term indictment of Tebow.  It’s a recognition of the fact that, at least for now, he has bumped up against his ceiling.  The goal on Sunday is to win one game, and it could be that the only way to do that will be to know when to flip the switch from the unconventional quarterback to the guy whose abilities would defy the Steelers’ preparation.

9.  MJD deserves high praise.

Every year, there’s a sense that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has reached the limit of his abilities, and that a regression is coming.  Every year, he simply continues to play at a high level.

This year, on a team with no passing offense to draw safeties away from the box, Jones-Drew piled up 1,606 rushing yards, more than 240 yards better than Ray Rice, who finished at No. 2.  Jones-Drew added 374 receiving yards, which gives him 1,980 yards from scrimmage.

At a time when former USC tailback Reggie Bush is still trying to become the best running back in the game, the former UCLA running back who entered the league in the same draft as an afterthought to Bush is what Bush has always wanted to be.  Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may not be able to develop a decent passing game before the window closes on his prime.

10.  Packers defense is even worse than the Patriots.

All year, the media has harped on the Patriots’ porous defense, barely noticing the Swiss cheese sieve in Green Bay.

At the end of the season, the numbers don’t lie.  The Patriots gave up 411.1 yards per game, and the Packers gave up 411.6.

The Packers also finished with a worse pass defense, giving up 299.8 yards per game.  The Pats surrendered, on average, 293.9.  That’s 34.1 yards per game more than the third-worst pass defense, the Saints.

Fittingly, the three worst pass defenses are complemented by the three best pass offenses.

And so, if the top two seeds make it to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl (or if the Saints get there instead of the Packers), it could be time to reduce the field from 100 yards to 50, put up nets at either end, and just call the game what it will be — arena football.

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Broncos should consider exclusive version of franchise tag for Von Miller

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Last year, after the Chiefs applied the non-exclusive franchise tag to linebacker Justin Houston, speculation emerged that a team would gladly give up a pair of first-round picks as compensation for signing him to an offer sheet that Kansas City wouldn’t or couldn’t match. Ultimately, no one did.

This year, the Broncos plan to use the franchise tag if they can’t work out a long-term deal with linebacker Von Miller. If they ultimately apply the non-exclusive version of the tag to Miller, would another team sign the Super Bowl 50 MVP to an offer sheet?

The teams most tempted would be those currently picking at the bottom of round one, since they wouldn’t be giving up a high pick to get Miller now — and presumably wouldn’t be giving up a high pick in 2017, either.

One way for Denver to prevent an effort to swipe Miller would be to use the exclusive version of the franchise tag, which would increase Miller’s tender from the non-exclusive amount of roughly $14 million to the average of the five highest 2016 linebacker cap numbers.

Ultimately, the difference in amounts may not be significant. Making the decision to use the exclusive tag easier.

The safest course would be to get Miller signed before the deadline for using the tag. Then, it could be applied to someone else, like defensive lineman Malik Jackson. Whether they can get Miller signed before the tag deadline depends on how much Miller wants, and how much the Broncos are willing to pay. If a middle ground can’t be reached, the Broncos should consider using the exclusive version of the tag.

Otherwise, someone else could be breaking the bank for the man who did the most to shut down Carolina’s offense in the Super Bowl.

 

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Obama calls Broncos to congratulate them on Super Bowl win

BRIGHTON, CO - OCTOBER 26:  Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks on a cell phone to a potential voter during a stop at a campaign office October 26, 2008 in Brighton, Colorado. Obama continues to campaign as Election Day begins to draw near as he runs against his Republican challenger, Sen. John McCain.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Getty Images

At one point, the Super Bowl postgame coverage included the handing of a phone to the coach of the winning team with a call from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Nowadays, the call comes after the fact.

The Broncos have announced that President Barack Obama called coach Gary Kubiak and team captain DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday to congratulate them on the win.

Quarterback Peyton Manning wasn’t included in the call. Possibly because his Colts beat Obama’s Bears in Super Bowl XLI. (That probably wasn’t the reason. But it would be great if it were.)

The Broncos eventually will visit the White House to meet with Obama. The biggest question is whether the menu for the occasion will include mozzarella sticks and, if so, whether Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller will eat them.

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Strange facts emerge about Super Bowl 50 replay assistant

Zz01N2RkYjhhOGJiNzZmODk4NjE4Njk5MGNkYjBmM2ZlNQ== AP

From Super Bowl 50 comes a strange postscript that could have become a major problem for the NFL. Via TheBigLead.com, the wife of the game’s replay assistant attended the game as a fan of the Broncos.

Jimmy Oldham reportedly is a Denver-area resident. His wife donned a Broncos jersey for the game and posted a celebratory video to a public Facebook page.

A replay assistant’s potential impact on a given game is limited, especially where (as in this case) NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino was in the booth. Still, it’s a bad look for the league — and it’s something that easily could have been avoided by appointing a replay assistant: (1) who doesn’t live in the Denver area; and (2) whose wife isn’t a Broncos fan.

Per TheBigLead.com, the NFL declined to respond to questions regarding officiating assignments in relation to residency.

During the officiating lockout of 2012, the NFL yanked side judge Brian Stropolo from a Saints-Panthers game due to his status as a rabid Saints fan. As former official Jim Dapoulos explained in the aftermath of the scandal, plenty of officials have rooting interests. Most are far more concerned about doing a good job and earning high marks for their work.

Still, with only one game being played that day, it would have made much more sense to give the assignment to someone else. And if the league believes it would have been unfair to not reward the replay assistant for a great season with a Super Bowl assignment despite where he lives, the league should have ensured that Mrs. Oldham exercised far more discretion regarding her desire to see the Broncos win the game.

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Goodell says extra point rule made the NFL more exciting in 2015

<> on February 8, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Getty Images

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says Year One of the new extra point rule was a success, and more rules tweaks are on the way.

Goodell said the new rule, which moved extra point kicks back 13 yards, is an example of the kinds of changes the league will continue to consider.

“From a competitive standpoint, this season, more games were decided by one score than ever in our history. That led to great competition and the average margin of victory lower than any time in our history. We’ll continue to try to make the game more exciting as we did this last year with the extra point,” Goodell said.

It is true that there were more two-point conversion attempts in 2015 than in 2014: NFL teams went 45-for-94 on two-point conversions in 2015 after going 28-for-58 in 2014. Most fans would agree that a two-point conversion is a more exciting play than an extra point, and so there was a little more excitement in that respect.

Extra points also became more difficult, with kickers converting on 94.2 percent in 2015 after converting on 99.3 percent in 2014. But not all fans buy the idea that more missed extra points translates to more excitement.

What would really be exciting is if the new rule led to some coach deciding to go for two as the default option after touchdowns. So far no coach has done that. Perhaps it will happen if the NFL moves extra points back another 10 or 15 yards.

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New NFL policy requires prospects to authorize background checks

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Before the NFL can determine whether draft prospects should be barred from the Scouting Combine or other league-related draft events for certain criminal offenses, the NFL must be able to make that determination. Before the NFL can make that determination, the NFL must be able to investigate the prospect.

Before that can happen, the prospect must provide authorization to the NFL during the Scouting Combine registration process. If the prospect refuses to provide authorization, the prospect’s invitation to participate in the Scouting Combine will be revoked, according to the memo sent on January 25 to all team presidents, General Managers and coaches.

As a practical matter, players will gladly sign whatever paperwork they need to sign in order to participate in the Scouting Combine. Still, the mandatory background check represents yet another thing that is required of players as part of a lengthy preemployment process that, via the Combine, provides plenty of free entertainment and TV content for the NFL.

The new policy applies to all felony or misdemeanor convictions, and it broadly encompasses any conviction “involving violence,” with specific citation to crimes involving the “use of a weapon, domestic violence, sexual offense and/or sexual assault.”

As noted earlier, the NFLPA had no comment on the new policy, which the league implemented unilaterally.

The policy has no impact on the ability of teams to independently evaluate or draft the players who are barred from league-related draft events, either due to the outcome of the background check or the refusal to consent to one.

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Patriots release Montee Ball, but most thought he wasn’t on the team

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Getty Images

It was believed that the contract of Patriots running back Montee Ball expired on February 1. If it did, the team at some point re-signed him. Because on Tuesday the Patriots released his rights.

The league’s transaction report for Tuesday shows that the Patriots waived Ball, who finished the season on the team’s practice squad.

A second-round pick in 2013, Ball entered the 2014 season as the starting running back in Denver. He lost the job during the 2014 season and was cut just before the start of the 2015 regular season.

Ball was arrested February 5 after a dispute with his girlfriend. The waiver of Ball on February 9 indicates he was employed by the Patriots on February 5, which resets the “days without an arrest” meter to that day, just as it was once again approaching 50.

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Colts add a few more coaches

Chuck Pagano AP

The Colts let go of several assistant coaches last month after reaching a deal to keep head coach Chuck Pagano and they announced some of the new faces on the staff on Tuesday.

Lee Hull will be the team’s new wide receivers coach, replacing Jim Hostler. There have been reports that Hostler will remain with the Colts in a new role but it has not been announced at this point. Hull spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Morgan State and has also worked at Maryland and Oregon State.

Jemal Singleton has been hired as running backs coach after spending last year as the special teams and running backs coach at the University of Arkansas. Charlie Williams was let go in January after four years with the team.

The Colts also hired Maurice Drayton as assistant special teams coach, Quadrian Banks as conditioning/performance analyst and Andrew Hayes-Stoker as assistant to the head coach. They also announced that Joe Philbin will be assistant head coach in addition to working with the offensive line.

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Raiders move on from Nate Allen

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The Raiders have plenty of money to spend in 2016. They’ll be spending none of it on safety Nate Allen.

Per a league source, Allen has been released after one season with the Raiders.

Signed as a free agent after five years with the Eagles, Allen appeared in five games with three starts last season, picking off one pass.

Allen signed a four-year, $23 million contract in 2015. With no signing bonus and a $4.9 million base salary that was due to become available on the third day of the 2016 league year, the Raiders walk away from Allen with no cap hit and no financial responsibility.

A vested veteran, Allen becomes a free agent immediately.

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Police deliver LeSean McCoy investigation to prosecutors

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Amid a report that an arrest of Bills running back LeSean McCoy is “imminent,” police in Philadelphia have completed their investigation. Via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, the file has been delivered to the District Attorney’s office for potential prosecution.

McCoy apparently anticipates that he’ll be defending himself in court. Via John Barr of ESPN, McCoy has hired Philadelphia defense lawyer Jack McMahon to handle the case.

Several videos have emerged showing portions of the fight that reportedly sent two off-duty police officers to the hospital, both with fractured ribs and one with a fractured orbital bone. One comes from CrossingBroad.com, another comes from TMZ.com, and the third comes from 6abc.com.

It’s hard to make out many details, although the TMZ video seems to show McCoy throwing at least one punch.

Given the symbiotic relationship between police officers and prosecutors, the D.A. will face plenty of pressure to pursue charges against McCoy and all other suspects, in order to obtain justice for the off-duty police officers who were injured in the assault. Given McCoy’s profile and resources, there also will be pressure on prosecutors to get everything right in order to seal off any potential avenues for injecting “reasonable doubt” into the case.

The NFL already is investigating the situation, and it could impose discipline on McCoy with or without prosecution.

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Jets fill out their coaching staff with three hires

26 Jul 1998:  Offensive lineman David Diaz-Infante #63 of the Denver Broncos looks on during the 1998 Denver Broncos training camp at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport Getty Images

Jets coach Todd Bowles has filled out his coaching staff, with the team announcing three more hires today.

The Jets hired former NFL offensive lineman David Diaz-Infante as assistant offensive line coach, promoted John Scott Jr. from defensive quality control coach to assistant defensive line coach, and hired Tim Atkins as defensive quality control coach.

Diaz-Infante had background with Bowles in Arizona, where he worked for two seasons.

He was part of two Super Bowl winning teams with the Broncos, and also played for the Chargers and Eagles, along with stints in the CFL, XFL and the World League.

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Rivera to shorten Panthers’ offseason program

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As a team that got to the Super Bowl this year tries to get back next year, one of the biggest impediments to playing into February comes from the fact that the team has just played into February.

The fatigue can take a toll on a team, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera already is thinking about how to manage the extra effort expended in 2015 as 2016 approaches. Specifically, he’ll be delaying the start of the offseason program in order to ensure that his players get more rest.

“We’ve checked with the league and we’re gonna be able to do some things a little bit differently as far as when we can start,” Rivera told reporters on Tuesday. “We checked with the league, the league checked with the Players Association. Because of finishing as late as we did, we’re going to start a little later. I am going to eliminate a little bit of the time, as far as what the OTAs and the offseason program brings.

“The whole idea is that we’ve had five extra weeks of work, our young guys have gotten five more weeks that they normally wouldn’t have gotten, or may not have gotten. So that I think is important. And, again, the idea right now in talking with the trainers, the docters, the strength and conditioning staff, it’s about rest right now. . . . It does complicate things, but it’s a great problem to have.”

The players, Rivera explained, will have the same amount of time off as they had last year. But the program will still end at the same time as it did last year.

It’s a plan that goes against the approach employed by most NFL coaches, who will take full advantage of every rep and every practice and every opportunity — especially under a CBA that limits contact and practice time.

Coaches want more, not less. Rivera’s decision to choose less could start a new trend, if it ensures that the players have more gas in the tank as the team gets to December and, more importantly, January and, even more importantly, February.

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Rams announce over 56,000 deposits for season tickets

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 03:  Chris Long #91 of the St. Louis Rams reacts after a play against the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams started taking season ticket deposts on January 19 and more than 45,000 people put down $100 in a couple of days for the right to buy up to eight tickets for the team’s first season back in Los Angeles.

Their deposit drive continued through Monday and the team announced on Tuesday that more than 56,000 deposits were taken before they closed up that portion of their ticket sales effort.

“We are inspired by how enthusiastically NFL fans in Southern California have responded to the return of the Los Angeles Rams,” Rams Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President Kevin Demoff said in a statement. “We will reward their passion by providing a terrific game day experience at both the Coliseum this fall and ultimately in Inglewood. We can’t wait to welcome our fans on Sundays and become an integral part of the Greater Los Angeles community.”

The deposits, which are refundable, give holders the right to buy tickets at the Coliseum and season ticket holders will be at the front of the line when it’s time to start selling tickets for the Inglewood stadium that’s expected to be ready for the 2019 season.

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Grand jury indicts eight in Pilot Flying J investigation

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Dormant for months, the Pilot Flying J investigation has revved up again, in a significant way.

Via WBIR.com, a federal grand jury indicted eight former and current employees of the truck-stop conglomerate on Tuesday, including former president Mark Hazelwood.

Hazelwood, who faces three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of witness tampering, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The eight defendants were informed through their lawyers on Friday to expect the indictments.

For CEO (and Browns owner) Jimmy Haslam, who has not yet been indicted, the key question is whether Hazelwood at some point will change that not guilty plea to guilty, along with an agreement to testify against Haslam.

Hazelwood reported directly to Haslam, and two of the other defendants (V.P. of national accounts Scott Wombold and V.P. of sales Jon Freeman) reported directly to Haslam, based on an organizational chart posted on the WBIR.com Twitter page.

The scandal relates to the manipulation of a rebate program to prey upon unsophisticated customers. In 2014, the company itself struck a deal to avoid prosecution by agreeing to pay a monetary penalty of more than $92 million. The agreement regarding Pilot Flying J was negotiated by attorney Aubrey Harwell. Because he also represents Haslam personally, many has presumed that Haslam is as a practical matter immune from prosecution, even if technically no individuals are exempt.

Hazelwood clearly isn’t exempt, and if he’s in position to give up the kind of evidence that draws the man at the top of the pyramid into the cross hairs, the NFL could have to revisit the position that Haslam committed no violation of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. Otherwise, it would be conspicuous if Haslam is still permitted to attend the Scouting Combine or other league events, given the NFL’s new position on incoming players with criminal records.

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Colts waive Ryan Lindley

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 03:  Ryan Lindley #3 of the Indianapolis Colts looks for an open receiver during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts needed to bring in a couple of veteran quarterbacks for the end of the regular season due to injuries to Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck, but there’s no need for so many of them on the offseason roster.

Indianapolis parted ways with one of them on Tuesday. The Colts announced that they have waived Ryan Lindley.

Lindley signed with the team before the regular season finale and split time with fellow late arrival Josh Freeman in the team’s Week 17 win over the Titans. He went 6-of-10 for 58 yards and a touchdown in his only action of the 2015 season.

His previous experience all came with the Cardinals, including a start in the team’s playoff loss to the Panthers after the 2014 season. He’ll look for work as a backup this offseason.

Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst are set to become free agents. The Colts have Freeman and Stephen Morris on the roster to go with Luck.

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Silver regrets saying Browns lied, stands by report Manziel was drunk

Johnny Manziel AP

After reporting on the air that the Browns lied about Johnny Manziel having a concussion to cover up Manziel’s drinking, NFL Network reporter Mike Silver has backed off. But only backed off half of the report.

Silver wrote on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon that he regrets saying that the Browns lied about Manziel having a concussion. But Silver still says Manziel was drunk when he reported to work on the Wednesday of Week 17.

“I’ve been told by multiple sources that Manziel showed up late to the team facility for a meeting & noticeably drunk on Wednesday, Dec. 30,” Silver wrote today. “He was later placed in the concussion protocol & sent home. I am not a doctor & thus cannot presume to question the diagnosis of an independent neurologist or any medical professional. I do not have direct knowledge of what Manziel may have told the doctor or doctors who evaluated him, or what might have been suggested. If the Browns say they did not lie about Manziel’s diagnosis, I will take them at their word, and I regret using that term (‘lied’). I stand by my original report that Manziel showed up drunk at practice & that witnesses believed this was the cause of his ‘behavior’.”

In his original on-air report, Silver was emphatic that the Browns lied about Manziel’s concussion diagnosis. It’s not a leap to wonder if the Browns, who own a 1/32nd share of NFL Network, may have suggested to Silver’s bosses that they were not too pleased with that report, and that may have led to Silver backing off.

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