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Special Monday 10-pack: Winners and losers in free agency

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Only six days ago, the free-agent market opened.  One of the biggest classes of veteran players, with some of the biggest names, landed on the market.

Apart from the Peyton chase, much of the dust has settled.

And so now we’re required by the laws of football analysis to tell you who won and who lost, even though we won’t really know the answer until they start playing games.

Which, you know, will feature winners and losers.

1. Winner:  Eagles.

Last year, with a compressed offseason and a new defensive coordinator who had been an offensive line coach for 14 prior seasons, the Eagles foolishly embarked on a spending spree, bringing in a bunch of big-name players and setting the stage for a Wonderlic pick-sixer blurting out the dreaded “Dream Team” label.

Apart from the challenge of getting a bunch of new employees on the same page quickly, the move surely caused some of the men already under contract to wonder why they weren’t getting a share of the free-agency windfall.

This year, the Eagles have focused on taking care of their own, which is a much better way to ensure that a true spirit of team will take over the locker room.

Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles have set the stage for receiver DeSean Jackson to turn back the clock to 2009, when he wasn’t concerned about staying healthy and/or getting paid.  The Eagles have addressed those concerns via a long-term deal that, in comparison to some of the too-heavy contracts given to lesser receivers and in light of Jackson’s rocky recent history, looks like a win-win.

Maybe that means “win” will be a more common term in the term’s vocabulary this season.

2.  Winner:  Packers.

G.M. Ted Thompson rarely makes a big splash in free agency.  The biggest exception came in 2006, when at the very public urging of quarterback Brett Favre the team signed cornerback Charles Woodson.

Other than that, the Packers under Thompson take a very conservative approach, building through the draft and using free agency on a limited basis, with low-cost talent addressing specific needs.

It’s not sexy this time of year.  But this isn’t the time of year when championships are won.  Unlike downtrodden organizations (such as the Packers themselves in 1993, when Reggie White chose Green Bay from a long list of suitors), the Packers don’t need to do anything to fire up the fan base or breathe life into the franchise.

It’s the right approach for this specific team.  The Packers have won, once again, by doing nothing.

3.  Winner:  Bills.

Speaking of downtrodden organizations, no team needed a big-ticket free agent like Mario Williams more than the Bills.  And they went all in, pulling out all the stops and persuading Williams to spend two nights in town and eventually getting the job done.

It gives Buffalo and the Bills a major boost, igniting intense local interest and legitimate national attention.  It also makes good football sense; defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt now has a player around whom the team’s new 4-3 defense can be built.

It wasn’t cheap, and it may prove to be a mistake.  But it was a risk the Bills needed to make if they ever hope to become relevant again.

4.  Winner:  Patriots.

At first, it looked like the Pats would follow the Pack’s “closed for business” approach to the early days of free agency.  But with needs at receiver, they’ve added a player in Brandon Lloyd who’ll have a far bigger impact than Chad Ochocinco (then again, the bar is low), and they’ve given Wes Welker a little cause for concern by landing a candidate to play slot receiver in Anthony Gonzalez.

They’ve also addressed an area of need on defense, adding the once-promising Trevor Scott to the rotation of recently underachieving pass rushers.

The Pats could still use a true deep threat to clear out all the underneath traffic.  But even if Lloyd is the biggest addition, the team that nearly won the Super Bowl in 2011 will be contending again in 2012.

5.  Winner:  Chiefs.

Yes, they were denied admission to the Peyton chase.  But let’s not forget that, despite all the dysfunction and key injuries of 2011, the Chiefs weren’t far away from winning the weakest division in the NFL.

Unlike most teams, the Chiefs found bargains even before the market softened, adding running back Peyton Hillis to a one-year, fire-under-butt-lighting $2.6 million contract, tight end Kevin Boss for three years and $9 million, right tackle Eric Winston, and backup quarterback Brady Quinn.

Hillis and Quinn played for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in Cleveland, adding some familiarity to the new Romeo Crennel regime.  Winston addresses a key area of need, and Boss gives the Chiefs a second pass-catching tight end, which apparently is now a mandatory requirement for any team that hopes to be highly successful in the passing game.

Next up, don’t be surprised if Crennel lures another former Brown to Kansas City, with linebacker Kamerion Wimbley on the market.

6.  Loser:  Dolphins.

Peter King of chronicles a decade of bizarre personnel moves by the Dolphins, but the organization is now developing another troubling reputation:  anyone with options won’t opt for Miami.

It began last year with owner Stephen Ross clumsily pursuing coach Jim Harbaugh, which painted a vivid picture of disloyalty to coach Tony Sparano.  It continued in 2012 when Ross tried, and failed, to lure coach Jeff Fisher to town.  And it spread to the ranks of players in 2012, with Peyton Manning showing tepid interest at best in joining the team (even though some believed it was a done deal that he’d be a Dolphin).  Then, Matt Flynn’s decision to play for the Seahawks instead of former Packers coordinator/Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin did more than raise eyebrows — especially when followed by Steelers safety Ryan Clark proclaiming that “no one” wants to play for the Dolphins.

It’s possible that Philbin simply wasn’t all that interested in Flynn, and that Philbin knows  Flynn’s pair of high-end performances (one in 2010 and one in 2011) won’t translate to being an effective week-in, week-out starter, once opposing defenses have a chance to study enough of his film and figure him out.  If that’s the case, the Dolphins shouldn’t have even brought him to town for a visit.  By doing so, it creates the impression that they wanted him — and that yet again they failed to get their man.

Correct or not, there’s now a perception that no one of significant consequence wants to work for the Dolphins.  And the harder Ross tries to turn the page by making a “big splash,” the more likely it is that he’ll continue to swing the bat and hit himself in the face with it.

7.  Loser:  Saints.

With Bountygate lingering, the Saints had even more reason to work out a new, long-term deal with Drew Brees.  And yet the Saints continue to fail to find a middle ground with their franchise quarterback.

There’s a chance Brees simply wants too much.  But here’s the problem:  He deserves it.  The best NFL quarterback of the last six years, if he wants to max out his contract, then he should.

And as to the idea that he needs to leave some money behind so that the Saints can field a competitive team given the salary cap, here’s one important point:  It never stopped the Colts from being competitive when Peyton got every last dollar he could.

And while it’s good that the Saints kept receiver Marques Colston, they lost Robert Meachem.  And while it’s good that they lured Ben Grubbs away from Baltimore, the lost Carl Nicks.

More importantly, they’ve yet to do anything to address needs on defense, which could become even more significant once the suspensions come down.

8.  Loser:  Vikings.

Good teams can afford to sit on the sidelines in the early days of free agency.  The Vikings are not a good team.

With plenty of cap room and a tenuous stadium situation and a fan base that may choose to do things other than attend or watch Vikings games this season, the franchise needed to make a splash.  Not a Mario Williams cannonball; but something more significant than a John Carlson dog paddle.

It’s doesn’t mean the Vikings should go hog wild.  But they should have made it a priority to land one big-name player, even if it meant overpaying a little.

The offseason is about selling hope.  Teams like the Packers, Patriots, Giants, and Steelers can afford to do nothing in March; the hope is implied.  For teams that have fallen, March is an opportunity to prove that they’re at least trying to get up.

9.  Loser:  Ravens.

The Ravens had four players in the PFT Hot 100 free-agency list.  Three already have bolted for greener pastures:  defensive end Cory Redding, linebacker Jarret Johnson, and guard Ben Grubbs.

To make matters worse, guard Evan Mathis opted to stay with the Dream Team in lieu of joining a team that, on paper, seems to have a better chance of making its dreams come true.

Then there’s the lingering possibility that someone will make restricted free agent cornerback Lardarius Webb an offer the Ravens can’t afford to match.

Though there’s a long way to go before September, it’s hard not to think that, at least for now, the Ravens have faded a bit closer to the pack in the AFC.

10.  Loser:  Bengals.

By capping 2011 with an unlikely playoff berth, it can’t be said that Paul Brown Stadium routinely was less than full due to the fact that the team was bad.  Instead, the fan base is fed up with owner Mike Brown.

Even though the team is laying a solid foundation of youthful players, Bengals fans think it’s not because of Brown but in spite of him.  And with a huge cap surplus for 2012, the Bengals haven’t done much to persuade anyone that they’re willing to spend.

The good news is that, after several days of inaction, the Bengals have gone bargain shopping, adding offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and defensive back Jason Allen.  They also managed to keep free-agent safety Reggie Nelson, who had attracted an offer from the Jets.

But this is the one playoff team that needed to at least chase a marquee free agent.  They didn’t have to land the guy.  Mike Brown simply needed to show that he’s willing to move from the nickel slot machines over to the no-limit poker table.

The Bengals may once again be competitive in 2012.  The fans won’t embrace the franchise they way they should, however, until they see large chunks of their money being reinvested in players who can help the team compete for a championship.

11.  Loser/Winner:  Redskins.

I know.  I said there would be only 10 winners and losers.  But I didn’t say anything about the team that lands in both categories.

The $36 million in unexpected cap charges for treated the uncapped year too literally makes the Redskins losers.  Their refusal to shrug their shoulders when they did nothing wrong makes them winners.

Their ability to still find a way to spend money makes them winners.  Their decision to give so much money to the likes of Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan makes them losers.

Their willingness to move up to No. 2 and get the franchise’s first true franchise quarterback since Sammy Baugh possibly will make them winners.  Mortgaging the future by giving up three first-round draft picks and a second-round pick possibly will make them losers.

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49ers may have trouble hiring a G.M.

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As the 49ers continue to look for a G.M. who, as a practical matter, will be working for coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers could be facing a different set of challenges.

If control over the roster was promised to Shanahan in order to get him to take the job at a time when everyone else had bailed, the current employers of the candidates for the G.M. job could block the move, since it wouldn’t entail the typical powers of a G.M.

Throw in the perception/reality that Paraag Marathe will be involved in football operations (and possibly negotiating contracts), and more of the finalists for the G.M. job could decide to pass, in the same way that Packers executive Eliot Wolf has done.

For Wolf, why swap the opportunity to eventually (if not sooner) run the Packers’ football operation for being a third spoke in the wheel at best, a glorified scout at worst?

The other candidates will need to ask themselves those same questions, before, during, and/or after their upcoming interviews with the presumed next coach of the team. And it will be important to know whether the G.M. will indeed have final say, since that aspect of the job could be the thing that ultimately keeps the 49ers from getting the guy they want.

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Gregg Williams: No one will be more aggressive or physical than us

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 8: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams of the St. Louis Rams walks the sidelines during the second half of a pre-season game against the New Orleans Saints at the Edward Jones Dome on August 8, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Saints beat the Rams 26-24.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams says his players will love playing for him in Cleveland because they’re going to be the toughest defense in the league.

“From an attitude standpoint, they’re never going to play for anybody that’s going to let them play more attacking, more physical, more aggressive than me. I’ll back them up,” he said. “I’ve only coached two or three guys in the league that I’ve ever had to put my hand on and back up. My whole life I’ve been trying to speed up your decisions and speed up your toughness and get you to play harder, get you to play tougher, get you to play meaner, and so that will be the way.”

Of course, Williams’ coaching career was almost derailed because he was allegedly too aggressive, too physical and too mean during the Bountygate scandal in New Orleans. Asked about that, Williams quickly shut down that line of questioning.

“Yeah, we’re not here to talk about that,” Williams told reporters. “What else do you want to talk about?”

What folks in Cleveland will want to talk about is whether Williams can turn around one of the worst defenses in football. He thinks his aggressive and physical system will do just that.

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Bills hire Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator

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New Bills head coach Sean McDermott has made the most important hire on his staff.

Rick Dennison will be the Bills’ offensive coordinator, the team announced.

Dennison spent the last two years as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator under Gary Kubiak but was not retained by new head coach Vance Joseph. Dennison was in his second stint as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, having also served in that role from 2006 to 2008, and he was also offensive coordinator of the Texans from 2010 to 2013.

In Buffalo, Dennison will run the offense for a new head coach who comes from the defensive side of the ball. Dennison and McDermott have never worked together, but McDermott apparently feels confident that Dennison is the right coach for the job.

Dennison joins a Bills team that has a big decision to make on whether to keep Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback. Dennison was the quarterbacks coach of the Ravens in 2014 when Taylor was in Baltimore as Joe Flacco’s backup, so that could be a sign that Taylor remains in the Bills’ offensive plans.

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Robert Kraft is still salty about #DeflateGate

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots fans who are still salty about #DeflateGate aren’t alone. The man who owns the team remains miffed, too.

“Sometimes, the league really messes up, and I think they really messed this up badly,” Robert Kraft told the New York Times as part of a broader profile. “But we’ve all agreed to subjugate our right to disrupt everything . . . I mean, we can, but we’re a partnership. There’s jealousy, there’s envy, there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair, and you have to suck it up and move on and not use it as an excuse.”

That quote from Kraft reflects plenty of truths about the debacle arising from a dynamic the league had never previously considered before an in-game complaint from the Colts two years and one day ago prompted a dusty-garage laboratory experiment with miscalibrated equipment, flawed assumptions, and ultimately an agenda to work backward and find that cheating happened even if it didn’t. All of it seemed to be fueled by lingering resentment that has set a standard that plenty of other teams can’t compete with, so they claim that the success came from something other than hard work, careful planning, and superior execution.

This year, with the Patriots generating an overall record of 16-2 despite not having Tom Brady for four games, no one can claim that anything happening other than hard work, careful planning, and superior execution. With two wins, it could culminate in Kraft, Bill Belichick, and/or Tom Brady telling Commissioner Roger Goodell to stick this in his trophy case.

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Hall of Fame obtains full Super Bowl I post-game audio

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame has obtained a full audio recording of the post-game show following Super Bowl I, and it’s a fascinating 30 minutes for anyone who’s interested in the history of football.

Pat Summerall, who was then 36 years old and recently retired as a player, handled the post-game proceedings and deftly showed the broadcasting talent that would make him the smoothest voice in pro football for decades to come. Summerall handled interviews with players, coaches and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had recently been named commissioner of the American Football League as well.

The Super Bowl wasn’t always called the Super Bowl back then; some referred to it as the “AFL-NFL Championship Game,” and although others used the term “Super Bowl,” it hadn’t yet been formally adopted.

One thing that stands out in listening to the broadcast is that virtually everyone took it as obvious that the NFL was a superior league to the AFL, and even though the NFL’s Packers had blown out the AFL’s Chiefs 35-10, Summerall acted surprised that the Chiefs were even able to keep it that close.

“I think if you watched, you were surprised, possibly — or possibly you knew — that Kansas City was as strong as they are,” Summerall said.

Packers coach Vince Lombardi scoffed when asked after the game whether AFL teams were on the same level as NFL teams.

“That’s a good football team and it doesn’t compare with the National Football League teams,” Lombardi said of the Chiefs. “I think the Kansas City team is a real tough football team but it doesn’t rate with the top teams in our league.”

Given that attitude, it’s unsurprising that the AFL Jets’ victory over the NFL Colts in Super Bowl III is still considered the greatest upset in the history of pro football.

Rozelle talked about the future of football with the NFL and AFL finally meeting on the same field, and he sounded particularly interested in how the two leagues would merge their rules. Rozelle said he hadn’t decided whether the two-point conversion, a staple of the AFL, would make its way to the NFL.

“One of the main ones left open was that two-point conversion,” Rozelle said. “As to the future of the two-point conversion, we’ll take it up after this summer, perhaps.”

As it turned out, the old-school NFL decided not to implement the newfangled two-point conversion until 1994.

The audio also includes Rozelle giving Lombardi the now-famous silver trophy and saying, “Vinny, this is the first Super Bowl trophy, and something Green Bay can keep — we’re going to have a new trophy each year.” That trophy, of course, continues to go to the winner of the Super Bowl each year, and now bears Lombardi’s name.

The Super Bowl I post-game audio was believed to be lost to history, as is the full TV broadcast of the Super Bowl I game. But a former production manager for an Ohio television station recently informed the Hall of Fame that he had recorded the show at the time that it aired and still had the tape. For fans of football history, that’s like finding buried treasure.

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NFL moves Commissioner’s Super Bowl press conference from Friday to Wednesday

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference prior to Super Bowl 50 at the Moscone Center West on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images) Getty Images

Super Bowl week typically ends with a Friday press conference involving the Commissioner. Although he speaks on various other occasions throughout the year (but hardly “almost every day“), there’s a different feel for the Super Bowl press conference, especially given the sheer number of reporters present and the lingering sense that a curveball, a screwball, and/or a spitball could be coming for him at any given moment.

This year, there will be a change. Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the Commissioner’s press conference has been moved from Friday to Wednesday.

As Kaplan notes, it’s a “major break” from tradition, which could mean that fewer reporters will attend, since plenty don’t arrive until the final few days of the week.

“Our overall thinking is by Friday people are really focused on the game,” NFL executive V.P. of communications Joe Lockhart told Kaplan.

I’ve been to the site of the Super Bowl every week since 2009, and that’s just not the case. Monday through Friday (and in many cases Saturday) is about everything but the game, save for the pool reports from team practices, which in most cases really don’t tell the people anything they don’t already know. The overall activity builds exponentially throughout the week, and by Friday every nook and cranny of the Super Bowl media center has maximum attendance and maximum buzz. Wednesday’s overall crowd typically a fraction of the throng that attends on Friday.

Maybe the goal is to get more people there earlier in the week. If that was the case, however, the league should have disclosed the change far earlier than precisely two weeks before the event.

The logical conclusion, then, is that the people responsible for the care and feeding of the Commissioner’s image hope to expose him to a crowd of reporters that will be smaller and, in turn, more predictable and more manageable.

There’s one major flaw in that logic. If the Patriots make it, the concentration of reporters who will be more inclined to pose tough, aggressive questions about #DeflateGate will be much greater, since the folks who cover the Patriots definitely will be there on Wednesday if the Patriots are there all week.

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Championship week PA and Florio podcast is up


It’s AFC and NFC title-game time, and the PA and Florio podcast will help get you ready for the games.

The latest edition of the half-hour-or-so discussion is available wherever podcasts can be obtained, specifically at  iTunes and audioBoom, and free of charge as always.

PA is, for those of you who ask every week, Paul Allen. He’s not the Paul Allen who owns the Seahawks; he’s the Paul Allen of KFAN and the Vikings Radio Network.

He’s also often very annoying with his over-the-top positive demeanor, which tends to bring out the worst in me.

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Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison remain out of practice for Packers

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Geronimo Allison #81 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers didn’t have a change in status for any of their injured wide receivers during Thursday’s practice.

Jordy Nelson was on the field for the second straight day, but media in Green Bay report that he wasn’t wearing pads while going through drills with his teammates. Nelson said on Wednesday that the team was still waiting to see that he was “fully functional” after breaking ribs during the Wild Card round.

Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison remained out as well with an ankle and hamstring injury respectively. Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t made a ruling about Sunday for any of them, but said that he would probably be ruling them out if it were the regular season.

“They’re still working,” McCarthy said, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They’re mentally getting ready. This is an injury threshold all three of those guys have, Jordy, Davante and Geronimo. They all have three distinctly different injuries. In the regular season mindset, I would think none of them would play in this game. But obviously this is a different time, this is a different point where we are in the season. Everybody understands what’s on the line here.”

McCarthy said the team wouldn’t look to the practice squad or outside the organization in the event all three can’t play against the Falcons. Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis are the other wideouts on the active roster with Ty Montgomery also experienced at the position in his pre-running back days and tight end Jared Cook playing a big role as a receiver.

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Several Steelers have the flu, Mike Tomlin says they’ll be fine

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 18:  Head Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates while walking off of the field after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 24-20 at Paul Brown Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

An illness is going around the Steelers’ locker room, but coach Mike Tomlin says he’s not overly concerned about it.

Four players missed practice with an illness today, and there are reportedly more than a dozen people in the Steelers facility feeling sick. Tomlin, however, said he believes everyone will be good to go in New England on Sunday.

“I’m just thankful that I’ve stayed out of the line of fire,” Tomlin said. “We’re not making excuses. There won’t be. We’ll be there, we’ll be ready to play, this is just part of normal things that happen over the course of a season”

Players who missed Wednesday’s practice with the illness were back on the practice field today, so it appears that it’s not an illness that will keep players laid up for long. The Steelers will hope to have it all out of their systems by Sunday.

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Interpreting Jim Irsay’s tweet about Andrew Luck

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At a time when plenty of eyes had been watching the Twitter page of Colts owner Jim Irsay to see if he’ll say anything about the status of G.M. Ryan Grigson and/or coach Chuck Pagano, Irsay threw everyone a curve ball by disclosing that quarterback Andrew Luck had shoulder surgery.

There’s no requirement that the Colts disclose any information about player health until September, as they approach their regular-season opener. So why would Irsay provide that information on Twitter?

The easy answer is why does Irsay provide any revelations on Twitter? From time to time in the past, he has caused plenty of head scratching with his Twitter habits. And if he’s going to be disclosing information that he has every right to keep to himself for the next eight months, why wouldn’t he mention the status of Grigson and/or Pagano?

While it’s admittedly dangerous and at times even shocking to try to discern meaning from the words people use, here’s my take on what Irsay is saying, as it relates to Grigson and Pagano: He plans to say nothing at all about either of them.

It’s actually a smart move, if his effort to find two in the bush while still gripping a bird in the hand has, as it appears, failed. At this point, an announcement that they’ll be back would operate as indirect confirmation that they were in trouble, which would serve only to further undermine them.

So we endorse and applaud the “Flick? Flick who?” strategy. It’s the only good way out of a mess that became a mess because Irsay didn’t want to fire his current key football employees unless and until he landed new ones.

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James Harrison, Ladarius Green don’t practice Thursday

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 08:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is seen on the field after a play during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field on January 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back Le’Veon Bell wasn’t the only player to miss practice for the Steelers on Thursday.

Steelers tight end Ladarius Green returned to the practice field as a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice, the first time he’d been on the field in almost two weeks as he deals with a concussion that has kept him from playing in the team’s last four games.

Green didn’t run his streak to two straight days, although the team says the reason was illness rather than a setback with his head injury. The Steelers had four players out with a stomach bug during Wednesday’s practice and word from those around the team is that Green is dealing with the same issue.

The Steelers have grown accustomed to playing without Green this season, which likely makes linebacker James Harrison’s absence with shoulder and triceps injuries a bigger deal. Harrison practiced in full on Wednesday, a day after coach Mike Tomlin said the veteran would be limited, and Friday will bring an official designation for Sunday’s game.

Harrison has been productive in the first two rounds with 2.5 sacks and the team will be hoping he’s healthy enough to join Bud Dupree in creating pressure on Tom Brady that can keep the Patriots offense from getting in gear.

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Dolphins hire Frank Bush as linebackers coach/assistant head coach

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 02:  Defensive coordinator Frank Bush of the Houston Texans looks on during warm ups before playing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins have hired a longtime NFL assistant to fill the linebackers coach job left open when the team promoted Matt Burke to replace Vance Joseph as the team’s defensive coordinator.

The team announced that Frank Bush has been hired as the new position coach. Bush spent the last four seasons as the linebackers coach for the Rams and has been an NFL assistant since the Oilers named him to the same position in 1992. He returned to Houston after the Oilers left and spent time as the Texans’ defensive coordinator during a career that’s also featured stops with the Broncos, Cardinals and Titans.

Bush has also been named the assistant head coach, which necessitated a change in titles for Darren Rizzi. The special teams coordinator had the assistant head coach title and will now be the associate head coach under Adam Gase.

The Dolphins announced that Chris Kuper has been promoted from offensive quality control coach to assistant offensive line coach. Kuper made 79 starts at guard for the Broncos between 2006-13 and joined the Miami staff last year.

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Le’Veon Bell excused from practice for “personal reasons”

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to run through the tackle attempt cornerback Marcus Peters #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers need running back Le’Veon Bell for Sunday. Presumably, they’ll have him.

On Thursday, they didn’t; Bell wasn’t at practice. Coach Mike Tomlin told reporters that Bell was excused from practice for “personal reasons.” Tomlin also said that Bell will be ready to go on Sunday at New England.

Bell has been more than ready to go in his first two career playoff games, setting franchise single-game postseason rushing records in both of them. He had 170 yards on Sunday night in Kansas City.

Due to become a free agent in March, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers letting Bell get a sniff of the open market, even if that means applying the franchise tag to keep him in place for at least one more year.

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Manziel admits he was “lost in the sauce,” vows to be better

johnny-manziel.vresize.1200.675.high.90 Getty Images

Ex-Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel fired off a series of tweets Thursday afternoon, writing that he hasn’t “been this happy in a long time” and apologizing for some of his past behavior.

Tagging one tweet #LostInTheSauce, Manziel wrote that he “truly appreciates all the people in my life who reached out during the truly rough patches in ’16” and that he is “just trying to be a good person again.”

His tweets started when he wrote that someone had brought to his attention that he would be charging $50 for selfies at the Super Bowl next month. Though Manziel denied it and called it “the dumbest thing [he’s] ever heard,” that’s exactly what a Houston area memorabilia store has been advertising since early January.

Manziel hasn’t been involved in any football related-discussions in 10 months and had kept a low profile on Twitter and Instagram. He posts frequently on Snapchat, often from beaches or nightclubs, but one of his tweets Thursday said that he’s working towards a comeback.

Late last year, Manziel and Dallas prosecutors reached a plea deal on charges stemming from an incident with his ex-girlfriend in which Manziel was accused of assault and voluntarily signed a restraining order to keep him away from her.

Manziel’s fame grew quickly in 2012, when he became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. He flamed out of the NFL almost as fast after being selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. The Browns released him last March after he wouldn’t return the team’s calls and was involved in a series of off-field incidents.

Though he was on the injured-reserve list, he missed the final game of the 2015 season after reportedly flying to Las Vegas and wearing a disguise while partying the night before that game. He had been forced to watch the 2014 season finale from the locker room in Baltimore by then-Browns coach Mike Pettine.

Last summer, Manziel’s father said his son was “a druggie” who needed help, even if that meant going to jail.

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NFL says Cowboys unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was properly called

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 25:  Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys discusses a call with referee John Parry #132 during the second quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on October 25, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys were moving the ball in Packers territory in the first half of last Sunday afternoon’s game when their drive stalled thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Unlike other calls of that nature, there was no contact with an official or punch thrown that led to the call. The penalty was on wide receiver Brice Butler, who officials said entered the huddle and then returned to the sideline without participating in a play. The league’s rules bar that as an attempt to sow confusion for the defense about which players are in the game.

Former Raiders and Browns exec and Bill Belichick assistant Michael Lombardi wrote on Twitter that he’s spoken to people from other teams who called the league for clarification about the call and were told that the call shouldn’t have been made because “Dallas was not being deceptive.” The league says otherwise.

League spokesman Michael Signora said the call was the proper one, while noting that the rule has been on the books since 1955. Senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino added that he has not spoken to any teams about the call and that it was last made in a 2014 game between the Redskins and the Cowboys, which contradicts Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s contention that he’d never seen it called before.

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