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Saints, Brees still making no progress

Divisional Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

At a time when Saints fans desperately need some good news, they’re not going to be getting it any time soon from quarterback Drew Brees.

Brees and the team are no closer on a new contract, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Now that the offseason program has entered Phase Two, with something more closely resembling football practice but still no helmets, the Saints are getting closer to the point where it will be critical to have Brees around.  But neither side is blinking, even as the franchise struggles through one of the toughest offseasons any team has endured.

The Saints have applied the exclusive franchise tender to Brees.  He can, if he chooses, hold out for all of training camp and the preseason, sign the tender, and receive the full amount of his salary.

Though Brees surely believes he has the upper hand, he runs the risk of alienating the fan base if something isn’t worked out, at the latest before training camp opens.  As Saints fans settle in to an us-against-the-world bunker mentality, Brees eventually needs to duck into the bunker, or else he’ll risk being lumped in with the rest of “the world.”

That doesn’t mean the Saints should deliberately wait things out until Brees feels compelled to take whatever he can get for fear of alienating his adopted hometown.  The Saints must try to find a middle ground with the man who has been the best quarterback in the NFL over the last six years.

If both sides are committed to being fair, this thing could get done in an afternoon.

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Your OTAs and minicamps guide for the 2012 offseason

Aaron Brown AP

The NFL doesn’t get much sleep.

On Friday — less than a week after the NFL draft’s completion — nine teams will convene for rookie minicamps. 22 more teams open rookie camp the following week.

The NFL released on Wednesday schedule dates for Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and offseason minicamps, and we turned them into a PFT feature that can be viewed at this link.

Enjoy.

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Organized Team Activities and minicamp dates

* = rookies only.

Arizona Cardinals

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Atlanta Falcons

OTAs: May 29-31, June 5-7 and 12-15.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 19-21.

Baltimore Ravens

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Buffalo Bills

OTAs: May 29, May 31-June 1, June 5, 7-8, 11-12, and 14-15.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 19-21.

Carolina Panthers

OTAs: May 22-24, May 30-June 1, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Chicago Bears

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Cincinnati Bengals

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Cleveland Browns

OTAs: May 22-24, May 30-June 1, June 12-15.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 5-7.

Dallas Cowboys

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

Denver Broncos

OTAs: May 21-23, May 30-June 1, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Detroit Lions

OTAs: May 21-22, 24, and 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5 and 7-8.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Green Bay Packers

OTAs: May 21-23, May 30-June 1, June 5-8.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Houston Texans

OTAs: May 21-22, 24, and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: June 12-14.

Indianapolis Colts

OTAs: May 15-17 and 22-24, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

Jacksonville Jaguars

OTAs: May 15-17 and 22-24, May 29-June 1.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

Kansas City Chiefs

OTAs: May 21-22, 24, and 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5 and 7-8.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Miami Dolphins

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 11-14.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 19-21.

Minnesota Vikings

OTAs: May 29-31, June 5-7 and 11-14.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 19-21.

New England Patriots

OTAs: May 21-22, 24, and 29-31, June 4-5 and 7-8.

Minicamps: May 10-12*, June 12-14.

New Orleans Saints

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 11-14.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 5-7.

New York Giants

OTAs: May 23-24, May 30-June 1, June 4-5 and 7-8.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

New York Jets

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4 and 6-7.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

Oakland Raiders

OTAs: May 14-15, 17, 21-22, and 24, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Philadelphia Eagles

OTAs: May 22-24, May 30-June 1, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 12-14*, June 12-14.

Pittsburgh Steelers

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

St. Louis Rams

OTAs: May 15-16, 18, 22-23, and 25, June 5-8.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

San Diego Chargers

OTAs: May 29-31, June 5-7 and 11-14.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 19-21.

San Francisco 49ers

OTAs: May 22-24 and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Seattle Seahawks

OTAs: May 22-24, May 30-June 1, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 11-13*, June 12-14.

Tampa Bay Bucs

OTAs: May 15, 17-18, 21-22, and 24, June 4-5 and 7-8.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

Tennessee Titans

OTAs: May 30-June 1, June 5-7, 11-12, and 14-15.

Minicamps: May 11-12*, June 19-21.

Washington Redskins

OTAs: May 21, 23-24, and 29-31, June 4-7.

Minicamps: May 4-6*, June 12-14.

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Roseman expects to start signing Eagles rookies

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Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman joined PFT Live on Wednesday to touch on so many salient subjects that we saw fit to transcribe the entire session.

Not long before the show began, the Bears had signed receiver Alshon Jeffrey, a second-round pick five days ago, to a four-year contract.  Roseman addressed the question of whether Eagles draft picks would be agreeing to terms soon.

“I think you’ll see a bunch of deals done here, before certainly our minicamp next weekend,” Roseman said.  “Not necessarily only with us but with other teams in the league as well.”

The ease of negotiating rookie contracts, in light of the new rookie wage scale, could be prompting agents to push for rookie contracts to be negotiated sooner rather than later.  “You hear that they’d rather get the money in their pocket now as opposed to waiting a couple months because it’s going to be the same deal they’re going to get anyway and they have the peace of mind of having that before they get on the field,” Roseman said.

Indeed, we think it’s only a matter of time before agents hold rookies out of offseason workouts until their contracts are finalized.  That was the subject of a separate segment from Wednesday’s PFT Live, which wasn’t transcribed.

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Player denials highlight Gregg Williams’ role in appeal process

former-new-orleans-saints-defensive-coordinator-gregg-williams-allegedly-orchestrated-a-bounty Getty Images

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has confessed to administering a bounty system, accepting without appeal his indefinite suspension.  When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell considers Williams’ request for reinstatement after the season, Goodell “will give close attention to the extent to which Coach Williams cooperates with the NFL in any further proceedings.”

That broad term presumably includes appeal hearings conducted in connection with player suspensions.  Given that both Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith have strongly denied funding the bounty pool, testimony from Williams regarding the NFL’s assertion that Vilma and Smith “assisted” Williams with the establishment and funding of the bounty pool will go a long way toward confirming the NFL’s position via the appeal process.

For Williams, that’s a problem.  He can’t return to the NFL unless he cooperates with “further proceedings,” but if that cooperation consists of testifying against his players in New Orleans, players in St. Louis or elsewhere may be even less inclined to respond to him.

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Transcript of Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman on PFT Live

[Editor's note:  Eagle General Manager Howie Roseman joined PFT Live on Wednesday.  He said so many interesting things that we decided to transcribe the full interview.  It was an easy decision for me, since I didn't personally have to transcribe it.]

MF: Let me start with this process of grading drafts. So many people in the media grade drafts, my position is everybody get an incomplete until we see what these guys can do. What’s your thought on the application of draft grades, specifically to what the Eagles have done this year?

HR:  As long as they give us a good grade, I’m all for it. If they give us a bad grade, it’s a stupid process.

MF:  Last night, Jets coach Rex Ryan made sure he pointed out Tim Tebow should be included in the Jets draft class because they traded a draft pick to get him. Do you feel that way about DeMeco Ryans? Should the middle linebacker you picked up from the Texans be part of your incoming draft class when it’s time to apply those grades?

HR: Its funny you ask that question because when we woke up Saturday morning and people came in the draft room and they saw that there was a player at the top of our fourth round draft board and that was DeMeco Ryans.  The minute the Commissioner put a team on the clock in the fourth round of the draft and we got to where our pick would have been, where the Texans were picking, we took DeMeco off our board and put him with our draft class, and that was fun to do.

MF: And he’s under contract, just like Alshon Jeffery the Bears receiver who was signed today, the Bears announced it.  Are you talking to any of your rookies, other than DeMeco Ryans, about getting them under contract sooner rather than later?

HR:  We are.  You know, we’ve got a little competition. [Bears negotiator] Cliff Stein, how about that guy?  He’s always the first one to go. We tried to beat him, but it’s hard to beat him.  He came out of the box strong.  We’ll try to do that here and get going.  That was out goal to have that done quickly so these guys can focus on getting down to business.

MF: Have you gotten any feedback from agents now that the process is so much easier to sign the rookies with the rookie wage scale, that they’d prefer to get these guys signed before they show up for offseason workouts so they have that peace of mind that they have a signed contract, they know they’re going to get paid even if they would suffer a serious injury during the offseason drills?

HR: I think you do hear that. You hear that they’d rather get the money in their pocket now as opposed to waiting a couple months because it’s going to be the same deal they’re going to get anyway and they have the peace of mind of having that before they get on the field. So I think you’ll see a bunch of deals done here, before certainly our minicamp next weekend. Not necessarily only with us but with other teams in the league as well.

MF: Now Fletcher Cox was the defensive lineman picked in round one. You stayed on the defensive side of the ball for a lot of your picks. You got Vinny Curry, the defensive end, in round two. How much of that focus on the defensive line is maybe a nod to what the Giants have shown over the past several years about the importance of having a top-flight defensive line and what it can mean to your team?

HR: Oh, there’s no question the Giants have created a blueprint for the rest of the league with two Super Bowls in the last five years and their ability to create pressure on the quarterback, and it’s something we really believe in as well.  And for us, we were able, because of our offseason moves in terms of re-signing our own players and creating some depth on our football team, to go into the draft and really try to take the best player available whenever we could.  And we stayed true to our board there.  So we weren’t going in looking for defensive tackle, [but] Flecther Cox was by far the best player on our board when we traded up and got him.  And then the same thing, when we moved back at 51, Vinny Curry was the top player on our board.  We all took a deep breath and hated that we had to move back, but we had committed to getting a fourth-round pick back. And we had the opportunity to do that we kind of sweated it out and when Vinny was there at 59 it was just a no-brainer for the way we ranked these guys to go and get them.

MF:  Now on Fletcher Cox, he’s one of the guys we met backstage at the draft. He was by far the nicest guy, he was happy, he shook hands with everyone in the room, the cameraman, the audio guy, everybody. What was it about Fletcher Cox that attracted you to him, to get you to go up from 15 to 12 to get him?

HR: Well, I’ll tell you what, there’s not much not to like there.  Is that a double negative right there?  My English teacher would probably not be happy with that.  I think when you’re talking about a 6’3″, 300-pound guy, just turned 21 years old, long arms, incredible athlete. Coming out of high school he was the fifth-ranked defensive end in the country.  Ran a 4.5, he’s a perfect fit for what Jim Washburn does with our defensive line. Even to get pressure on the quarterback, like we just talked about, following that Giants blueprint that they execute so well and we believe in.  So he was just a perfect fit, player, position, character, and we’re really excited about him.

MF: Now Vinny Curry, you mentioned you slid down to get him, he played at Marshall here in West Virginia.  Another guy from West Virginia, not Marshall but West Virginia University, Bruce Irvin went up 15th overall to the Seahawks.  How much of a surprise was it for you in the war room when the Seahawks took Irvin at 15?

HR:  It wasn’t a surprise to us because, again, this is a guy who can create tremendous amounts of pressure and havoc on your offensive line and quarterbacks. John Schneider and Pete Carroll do a phenomenal job in Seattle and they got a heck of a player.

MF: Now with the Kevin Kolb pick from last year, traded to the Arizona Cardinals, you got Mychal Kendricks, linebacker. Listed as an inside linebacker but you’ve got DeMeco Ryans, where do you envision Kendricks playing?

HR: Well, Kendricks can play any of the three spots. He can play Will, he can play Sam, he can play Mike. This is a guy when we met with our scouts in December, we just kind of put him up there and said if we can get him with one of our two second-round picks that would be a phenomenal pick and fit for our defense and our team.  And when he blew up the Combine we were worried that he wouldn’t be there at 46, so we’re really excited to get him and bring him to Philadelphia.  I think he fits perfectly for what we do on defense.  He can cover, he can blitz, he’s instinctive in the run game, and he fits something that we’re looking for for our football team.

MF: And Howie there was a lot of criticism last year for the performance of your linebackers.  Looking back on the overall defensive effort, is it that the linebackers were deficient, was it that the defensive line was not living up to its end of the bargain and making it harder for the linebackers to get to the ball?  Have you figured out what actually happened between the positions on the front seven?

HR:  I think first when you’re 8-8 and you have the expectations that we have, everything is at fault there.  It’s a disappointment, I just have to go back and look at the things I could have done differently in my role, and evaluate that.  And that’s what this offseason was about, was about learning from the things we did last year, trying to put a different spin on it, keeping true to our principles and we’re excited about that.  We’re in an unbelievably tough division, tough conference and we’ve just got to put the best football team we can together and continuity we think is going to be a big plus for us as well.

MF: Pictured in the graphic on our screen is Asante Samuel, traded last week to the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh-round pick. Why wasn’t Samuel traded last year, once you got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha?

HR: Well, you know what, we spent some time exploring those options and had things that were close to coming to fruition, but at the end of the day we went in with those three guys and we felt like they were three very talented players and they would help our effort to win a lot of games last year and it just didn’t work out. We had to look at that, we have a lot of young guys on our team we want to keep here and the cap, the way it is structured the next few years, we want to be in the position to keep our team together. So because of that we felt like it was in everyone’s best interests to move forward and the Atlanta Falcons got a heck of a player in Asante Samuels and we’ll miss him in Philadelphia, but we thought this was in the best long-term interests of our football team.

MF: And a lot of Eagles fans have been spoiled by the fact that whenever you do a trade it seems like you come out smelling like roses, getting the better of the deal.  I think some look at the trade and say, “Seventh-round pick, couldn’t we have gotten more for him if we had done it last year?”  Do you think you could’ve gotten more than a seventh-rounder if it had happened during the 2011 season?

HR:  Yeah, I think that’s an accurate criticism, but we wanted to have the player on our team last year and that’s why we didn’t make the move.  And so we’ve just got to look at where we are with our team this season and this year and we wanted to do and that was really the best opportunity for all involved, that trade that we made with the Atlanta Falcons.

MF: Now when Samuel went to the Falcons he worked out a three-year deal reportedly worth anywhere from $14.5 to $18.5 million, was there any effort to try to work out a new deal with Samuel, because one of the reasons he was moved was because he had such a big salary this year and next year.

HR:  Right, you know, we try to keep all our negotiations, our communication with our players between us and them, that fosters great relationships.  And so any conversation we had with him, we were very open with each other and at the end of the day he was very excited to become an Atlanta Falcon and we’re going to move forward with our team and hopefully have a successful season.

MF: Your quarterback used to be an Atlanta Falcon, now he’s a Philadelphia Eagle, how much longer do you think Mike Vick will be — realistically — how much longer do you think he will be the quarterback of the Eagles?

HR: I’ll tell you what, he’s in phenomenal shape, this is his first offseason as a starter in Philadelphia. We’re really excited about where he’s at and the talent that he brings.  And you see quarterbacks are playing for a long time in this league.  So I would not want to put any timetable on his ability to continue to play at a high level.

MF: Vince Young was the primary backup last year to Mike Vick, he’s been available for weeks now on the free-agency market, he’s reportedly got a workout today with the Bills.  How surprised are you that it’s taken this long for a market to develop for Vince Young?

HR:  Very surprised.  Vince was an unbelievable teammate when he was here and you saw him continue to get better.  We felt like he was going to have an opportunity to go somewhere and maybe compete for a starting spot.  So whoever gets Vince Young is going to get a steal at this stage of the offseason and we wish him the best.

MF:  Quarterback Nick Foles was drafted over the weekend, what does that mean for Mike Kafka and/or Trent Edwards?

HR: Well, we have high hopes for both those guys.  This is just a situation where we’re trying to collect quarterbacks, we’ve done that since Andy’s been here, and we felt like he was the best player on the board when we selected.  He’s a big, strong-armed kid, unbelievable deep ball and, no disrespect to that football team there, but he was playing with some young talent and we felt like he could really thrive in the right environment.  That doesn’t lessen out expectations for Mike Kafka, a guy we drafted in the fourth round and we think has a lot of tools.  And the same thing, Trent Edwards, when he was available to us we just he was too good of a player to not sign off the street.

MF:  Last one for you, of course when I say that I ask five more, but I’m going to try to hold to it this time. Your head coach Andy Reid has said a couple times over the last month or so that he’s going to try to reduce the reps, the touches, for LeSean McCoy.  Is that just coach-speak or is there going to be an effort  to reduce the number of times LeSean McCoy is in harm’s way with the football?

HR: I think there’s always an effort to try and do that and get other people some touches so LeSean can play at the highest level this year and going forward, but you’re talking about a great player and you always want to get the ball in his hands. So once you’re in a game and close games, you know, you’ve got to see what’s going on there and Coach does a great job with his backs and the rest of our skill guys in terms of spelling them, but obviously LeSean’s a great player and he’s going to get a fair amount of touches this year, I don’t think he’s going to have to worry about if he’s getting the ball enough.

MF: Ok, I lied. . . .  Will he have a new contract before Week One? That’s the last question.

HR:  Again, I’ll stick to my first answer in terms of our contract negotiations with our players, but I’ll tell you what Mike, he’s a heck of a player, we want him in Philadelphia for a long time, we haven’t been shy about that and we’ll see if the guys doing the deals are any good, right? Put a little pressure on me and Joe [Banner].

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Former prosecutor conducted independent review of bounty evidence

dbpix-mary-jo-white-articleInline Reuters

By denying the NFL’s findings regarding the Saints’ bounty system, the NFLPA has attempted, wisely, to create a he said/she said dynamic as to whether players were involved, notwithstanding the admissions made by the coaches involved in the bounty program and, according to the NFL’s announcement from Wednesday, a signed declaration from defensive end Anthony Hargrove.

If the NFLPA has managed to posture the competing contentions as a tie, the NFL undoubtedly believes it has the tiebreaker.

Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that the league explained in a Wednesday memo to all teams that a former prosecutor was hired to conduct an independent review of the evidence.

“We also took the step of engaging Mary Jo White, the former United States Attorney for New York, at an early stage of the investigation in order to ensure both the fairness of the process and the reliability of the information on which our decisions were made in the Saints matter,” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to all teams. “Following a process that she has frequently undertaken on a wide range of matters in recent years, Mrs. White provided an independent view of the investigation from the perspective of an experienced and highly respected law enforcement officer.”

White currently practices white collar criminal defense at the firm of Debevoise & Plimpton.

“After her review, she expressed a high degree of confidence in the fairness of the investigation, the reliability of the findings, and the quality of evidence that supported those findings,” Goodell wrote.

The NFLPA has claimed that no detailed evidence regarding the existence of a “pay-for-injury” scheme has been provided to the union.  It’s likely that both sides have kept their cards close to the vest in order to avoid any lawyering of the evidence.  At some point, however, the cards need to hit the table.

The sooner they do, the more sense this will all make.

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Lorenzo Neal reflects on the pressures of being Junior Seau

Obit Seau Football AP

As a friend of Junior Seau, Lorenzo Neal said that when he learned of Seau’s death today, his reaction was, “We lost a great man.” But as a player who had a lengthy career before recently retiring, Neal had another reaction to the news that Seau’s death was an apparent suicide: Neal understands the pressures that Seau was under.

Neal said in an interview on NBC Sports Talk that Seau wanted badly to please everyone, and he could always do that by playing football well, which came naturally to him. But it was harder for Seau to continue to make a difference when football was over.

“I know Junior — I know the man,” Neal said. “People think, ‘These guys are grown men playing a kid’s game, getting a king’s ransom.’ They don’t understand sometimes the pressure. You’ve got to realize, you walk out on the field, there’s thousands of people watching you in the stands. There’s millions of people watching you at home. And you’re revered as a gladiator. And even if you’re still doing things after football, after your career, there’s no stage like that football field.”

Neal played 17 years in the NFL and retired after the 2008 season, and he said he can understand why it was so difficult for Seau, who played 20 years and retired after the 2009 season, to adjust to live after football.

“When you’re out, it’s not the crash that kills you, it’s the sudden stop,” Neal said. “The first year was tough. You watch the game that you’ve been part of for so long . . . and it’s gone. . . . You’ve been put on a pedestal, and it’s taken from you, your time has expired — your shelf life. And people don’t understand.”

Here’s Neal’s interview:

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Former Cowboys player arrested on drug, weapons charges

Torrin_Tucker_640x480_20120502162546_320_240

Former Cowboys offensive lineman Torrin Tucker, who last month joined the ranks of former players suing the NFL for concussions, now has a much different involvement with the legal system.

Tucker has been arrested in Tampa on felony drug and weapons charges after allegedly trying to sell an undercover officer $20 worth of marijuana, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.  Police officially charged Tucker with felony possession of cocaine with intent to sell, felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell, felony delivery of marijuana, felony possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Tucker works in security at a Tampa strip club.  He allegedly had in his possession upon arrest 18 bags of marijuana that were packed for sale and nine capsules containing cocaine.  He also allegedly had a handgun loaded with 11 hollow-point rounds in his waistband.

Tucker played for the Cowboys from 2003 through 2005.  He was in camp with the Bucs in 2006 and with the Texans in 2008.  Tucker also has played in the CFL and, most recently, in the UFL.

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Will Smith calls the accusations against him “one-hundred percent false”

106532720_crop_650x440 Getty Images

Joining Saint linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith has issued a statement regarding the suspension imposed on him for involvement in the team’s three-year bounty system.

The league’s announcement of the suspensions says that Smith “assisted Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in establishing and funding the program during a period in which he was a captain and leader of the defensive unit,” and that “[m]ultiple independent sources also confirmed that Smith pledged significant sums to the program pool for ‘cart-offs’ and ‘knockouts’ of opposing players.”

Smith denies any involvement in the bounty program, calling the accusations against him “false.”

“I am disappointed the NFL has punished me with a four game suspension,” Smith said in a statement forwarded to PFT.  “I have never in my career, nor as a Captain asked others, to intentionally target and hurt specific opposing players.  I was in no way involved in establishing or assisting Gregg Williams with implementing a bounty program.  The accusations made against me are completely and one-hundred percent false, and I plan to appeal the decision along with the help of the NFL Players Association.

“Through this entire process, the NFL never notified me of what I was being accused of, nor presented me with any evidence or reasoning for this decision.  I am interested in discovering who is making these specific and false accusations, and as well as why a decision was made without speaking with me and giving me the opportunity to review the facts.  I am going to work with my union to clear my name and returning to the game I love and respect.  Thank you to our fans for the continued support.”

Apart from calling the accusations false, Smith seems to take issue with the league’s position that he was given a chance to meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell.

As with Vilma’s statement, Smith’s denial would have been more convincing in early March than in early May.  But we’ll continue to wait for the evidence to come out before making any conclusions regarding whether the players are or aren’t guilty as charged.

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Vilma’s strong statement would have been more convincing in early March

New_Orleans_Saints_Vilma_128804491_620x350 Getty Images

Unlike the suspensions imposed against various non-players involved in the Saints’ bounty system, each of whom admitted to their involvement, it’s impossible to assess whether the punishment of the current and former Saints players is fair without knowing whether the players are indeed guilty.  The NFL thinks they are, and the NFLPA’s various comments strongly suggest that the players contend they aren’t.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma because the first player to deny any involvement whatsoever in the bounty program via a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.  It was strong and clear and forceful.

And exactly two months late.

Vilma’s name first emerged on March 2, via the “confidential” NFL Security memo that explained he offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game.  So why did it take Vilma two months to respond?

It’s possible that Vilma was advised by his lawyer or by the NFLPA to say nothing while the decision on discipline was pending, but is that how truly innocent people behave?  Most would say that someone wrongfully accused of misconduct would shout his innocence from the proverbial rooftops, welcoming any opportunity to prove that he isn’t guilty.

Instead, Vilma and the three other players declined an opportunity to meet with the Commissioner to persuade him face-to-face that they did nothing wrong.

That doesn’t mean we believe Vilma is guilty as charged.  But his strong and clear and forceful statement would have been far more convincing on March 2 than on May 2.

Moreover, it’s possible that Vilma’s statement was carefully crafted to provide a safe harbor.  He says that he “never paid, or intended to pay” $10,000 to anyone who knocked Warner or Favre or anyone else out of a game.  Vilma doesn’t deny making the offer, perhaps as some sort of mechanism for getting his teammates appropriately “fired up” for the playoff games.  If Vilma is entirely and completely innocent, common sense says that his statement would have used the phrase “never paid, or offered to pay” the money.

We’ll nevertheless continue to keep an open mind, and we hope that the evidence from both sides eventually will be available for public scrutiny.  There’s simply no way of knowing who’s right and who’s wrong on this one without having some opportunity to objectively scrutinize the proof, or lack of it.

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Saints’ Eric Olsen offers a great Junior Seau memory

FILE:  Junior Seau Reportedly Found Dead Getty Images

Scores of NFL players have come forward in the hours since Junior Seau died to share their memories of playing with or against Seau, and those memories serve as a stark reminder that Seau — no matter the personal demons that led him to commit suicide — was one of the most respected and beloved players in football.

But the most moving memory of Seau may have been offered by a player who was never Seau’s teammate, didn’t claim to know him well and didn’t make it to the NFL until Seau had already retired: Saints backup center Eric Olsen.

It’s not clear that Seau even knew who Olsen was, but that’s what makes the memory Olsen shared so special: People who had been around Seau said he had the ability to make everyone he encountered feel better about themselves, and that’s what Seau did for Olsen, who shared a great memory of the time he met Seau when Olsen was an adolescent and Seau was a star.

“Wow this is a tough one,” Olsen wrote on his Twitter account when he heard about Seau’s death. “When I was a frosh in HS Junior Seau worked the Jay Fiedler Football camp and at the end of one of the days he challenged anyone to a 1-on-1. Being one of the ‘big’ kids, I was volunteered by my buddies and went up in front of the whole camp to face this monster of a man. Shaking in my cleats, he gave me a wink before a coach gave the cadence. He let me pancake him. And he sold it too. I can’t even tell you how good I felt at that moment; it changed me forever. The whole camp cheered for me, a chubby kid that didn’t know if he even liked football. From then on I was addicted. All thanks to this 10-time all-pro that felt like making some snot-nosed kid’s day. Doesn’t seem like much but it meant a lot to me. Sorry for the essay just had to share. RIP Junior I’ll never forget what you did for me.”

Those who knew him well, those like Olsen who met him briefly and those who only saw him on TV are joined in grief today for a good man whose life came to a shocking end much too soon.

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Pat Shurmur: Fujita “a valued member” of Browns

Scott+Fujita+St+Louis+Rams+v+Cleveland+Browns+ORylk7u7zw0l Getty Images

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was suspended for three games by the NFL as a result of their bounty program investigation.

Fujita reportedly plans to appeal and there’s talk of further legal actions, so the Browns might not know whether or not they’ll have him in the lineup for a while yet. Coach Pat Shurmur released a brief statement on Wednesday about the suspensions.

“We will respect the Commissioner’s decision,” Shurmur said, via the Akron Beacon-Journal. “Scott is a valued member of the Cleveland Browns, and we look forward to his participation in our offseason program and training camp.”

The Browns got some experience playing without Fujita last season when a broken hand cost him the last five games. The Browns went with Chris Gocong, Kaluka Maiava and D’Qwell Jackson as their starting linebackers in Fujita’s absence. They could do the same thing this season, although they did draft James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho in the fourth and sixth-rounds, respectively.

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Jonathan Vilma releases statement about suspension

Jonathan+Vilma+Indianapolis+Colts+v+New+Orleans+EM04ZXcDf66l Getty Images

We already found out that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma found out about his suspension for the entire 2012 season while watching television.

Thanks to a statement released through his attorney on Wednesday afternoon, we found out what his thoughts were when the news came down. Vilma says that he never made the cash offers attributed to him in the original bounty report and that he plans to fight the suspension.

“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the NFL’s decision to suspend me for the 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to share any of the supposed evidence he claims supports this unprecedented punishment. The reason is clear: I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player out of the 2009 Divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game or any other game.

“I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner.

“I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game.”

While Vilma doesn’t specifically say he’s planning to appeal, it’s hard to get any other impression from his words.

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Jabar Gaffney says he’s going to the Patriots

Jabar+Gaffney+AFC+Championship+San+Diego+Chargers+fDJcJDIcNGal Getty Images

When Jabar Gaffney was released by the Redskins, we predicted that he wouldn’t be out of work too long.

We also wondered if the Patriots might be interested in reuniting with a guy who made a big catch against the Ravens to help the team keep their 2007 run at an undefeated regular season alive. It might be a good week to play the lottery because it looks like we were on to something on both fronts.

Gaffney told Josina Anderson of ESPN that he will be signing a deal with the Patriots soon. Gaffney played for the Pats from 2006-2008, catching 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns. His production spiked after leaving New England, he has 187 catches over the last three years, but he was a reliable target for Tom Brady when he was in New England.

The Patriots have added Brandon Lloyd, Donte’ Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez to a receiving group that already included Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco and Julian Edelman. Wes Welker will also be back, whether he signs his franchise tender or a long-term deal, and that makes for a crowded depth chart. Gaffney likely moves ahead of some of the other veterans and his arrival might lead someone like Ochocinco to ask for a release so that he can find a place he’s likelier to see the field in 2012.

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