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Collusion claim seems destined to fail

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The NFLPA’s claim that the league’s teams engaged in collusion during the 2010 uncapped year has ample merit.   If it ever gets to the merits of the case.

That may not happen.  The new lawsuit filed Wednesday by the union in an effort to secure more than $3 billion from the league faces two major hurdles:  the union knew or should have known in 2011 that there was collusion in 2010, and the union thereafter ratified any collusion by agreeing to the cap penalties imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins as a result of their failure to abide by the alleged agreement to collude.

The petition filed with U.S. Judge David Doty alleges that the claims presented are “entirely new,” but those claims flow from a set of facts that should have put the union on notice that something was amiss.  Apart from the collusion claim filed by the NFLPA in early 2011 regarding the lack of interest in restricted free agents during the uncapped year, there was ample evidence to support suspicion, or more, regarding the NFL’s plan to keep more money in the owners’ coffers and put less in the players’ pockets as a work stoppage was looming.

Prior to the launch of the uncapped year in early 2010, multiple teams cited internal budgets when addressing the reality that there would be no salary cap.  And to the extent that the actual spending by the 32 teams in 2010 suggested that perhaps the owners had an unwritten understanding as to the handling of the uncapped year, the NFLPA had full access to all contracts months before the new CBA was finalized, allowing the union’s lawyers to piece together enough circumstantial evidence to warrant full-blown litigation on the question of whether an informal salary cap had been established for the uncapped year.

Regardless of what the NFLPA knew or should have known before finalizing the current CBA and related legal documents, the paperwork seems to slam the door on any collusion claims relating to conduct in 2010.  As the CBA state at Article 3, Section 3(a) plainly states:  “The NFLPA on behalf of itself, its members, and their respective heirs, executors, administrators, representatives, agents, successors and assigns, releases and covenants not to sue, or to support financially or administratively, or voluntarily provide testimony of any kind, including by declaration or affidavit in, any suit or proceeding (including any Special Master proceeding brought pursuant to the White SSA and/or the Prior Agreement) against the NFL or any NFL Club or any NFL Affiliate with respect to any antitrust or other claim asserted in White v. NFL or Brady v. NFL, including, without limitation . . . collusion with respect to any League Year prior to 2011.”  (Emphasis added.)

Even if the 2011 CBA didn’t slam the door on a collusion claim arising from the uncapped year of 2010, the amendment to the CBA that resulted in the league and the NFLPA agreeing to the imposition of cap penalties on the Redskins and Cowboys in exchange for an increase in the salary cap operates, in essence, as a ratification of the release of collusion claims.  Indeed, the NFLPA should have realized, the moment the NFL asked the union to agree to take $46 million in cap space from the Redskins and Cowboys for treating the term “uncapped year” too literally, that the Redskins and Cowboys were being punished for refusing to collude.  By signing off on the cap penalties, the NFLPA reaffirmed its waiver of the collusion claims, since the mere request to strip cap space from the teams in question proved that collusion indeed occurred.

So why did the NFLPA go along with the cap penalties?  Because the NFL agreed to tinker with the salary cap formula in order to push the per-team limit higher in 2012 than it was in 2011.  If the salary cap had dropped during the first year of the new CBA, there’s a good chance that the contract of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wouldn’t have been renewed at annual meetings that began only a week or two after the new cap numbers were disclosed.

Thus, at first blush it appears that the NFLPA is trying to have it both ways.

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Philip Rivers says trade talk didn’t come from his side

Philip Rivers AP

With the 2015 NFL Draft come and gone, any window that ever existed for the Chargers to move Philip Rivers has closed. And now that they’re talking about a contract extension again, Rivers insists he’s not the one who suggested the idea of a trade.

Of course, there are multiple sides to every story, but looking back at this saga, it does appear more and more like an elaborate way to spark contract talks with the Chargers.

Rivers texted back and forth with an apparently skeptical Jim Trotter of ESPN, and insisted he wasn’t the originator of reports that he wanted a trade, to Tennessee or anywhere else.

“I not once, nor did Jimmy [Sexton, his agent], ever say anything about [wanting to be] traded,” Rivers said. “I don’t know what the story is. I’m here. And glad that I am. … I’m willing to listen to an extension. I am willing to play it out. What’s so wrong about that approach? . . .

“I didn’t start anything. I’m under contract for 2015. How can I comment on my future beyond that?”

Of course, Rivers did comment about his future, fairly clearly. And he did start it.

He got the ball rolling on this saga by saying he didn’t plan to sign an extension with the Chargers, and that he was comfortable going into 2015 as the final year of his deal. The suggestion was clear that a possible move to Los Angeles was a factor, and that Rivers wasn’t wild about the idea of taking his family there.

But he told Trotter over the weekend that talk about his next contract was premature.

“It’s May 2nd,” Rivers texted. “It’s not the day before free agency starts next year. It’s business as usual for me around here. Not trying to be difficult. Just feel that it’s a dead story.”

Hardly.

Until Rivers either gets a new long-term contract or doesn’t, and until the Chargers move to L.A. or don’t, and until they sit on Rivers with the franchise tag or don’t, there are plenty of more stories to be written about this one.

Whether Rivers thinks it’s a story or not, or contributes further to them.

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Patriots converting another quarterback to wide receiver

Devin Gardner AP

The Patriots have had pretty good luck with converting college quarterbacks, as Julian Edelman has proven to be a valuable part for them.

So why not try it again, with someone bigger and stronger.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, the Patriots have signed undrafted Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, with plans to make him a wide receiver.

Unlike Edelman, Gardner has legitimate NFL size, at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds. Of course, he’s also slow-ish, running a 4.65 40, which will make it harder.

But Gardner also has that leadership/work ethic vibe the Patriots dig on, so they might be able to find a role for him.

Michigan used Gardner as a receiver in 2012, but he settled in at quarterback for the Wolverines, the last two seasons.

Now he’ll get to catch passes from another Michigan man, while learning to convert from a Kent State quarterback who did pretty well with it.

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Winston will have “every opportunity” to start Week One

Buccaneers AP

As expected, the Buccaneers made quarterback Jameis Winston the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft. As assumed, it appears he’ll be installed right away as the starter.

“It’s pretty difficult to say with a straight face that we’re not going to give Jameis that opportunity to win it right away,” G.M. Jason Licht told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio on Friday. “He’s the first overall pick. We think he’s very advanced in terms of his ability to play and pick up schemes and concepts and learn the playbook relative to most rookies, or any rookie we’ve scouted in recent history. So he’s gonna have every opportunity.”

The team’s willingness to make him the Week One starter (against the Titans and, most likely, No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota) becomes even more obvious when considering the strong conviction Licht and coach Lovie Smith developed regarding Winston. Peter King of TheMMQB.com recently detailed the team’s thought processes regarding the former Florida State quarterback.

Licht had his eyes on Winston a year ago, when the draft-day quarterback debate focused on Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. By the Rose Bowl, even though Oregon blew out Florida State and Winston had a Garo Yepremian moment, Licht and Smith knew Winston was their guy.

And so they embarked on doing their homework regarding Winston’s off-field issues, a process that potentially was skewed by the joint desire of Licht and Smith to select Winston with the first overall pick that was secured over Tennessee in part by the decision to bench key players during the second half of a Week 17 game against the Saints.

King raised the question of potential confirmation bias with Licht, who denied that the team found what it wanted to find and ultimately concluded what it wanted to conclude with Winston

“This was a thorough investigation,” Licht said. “We were not going to mistake charisma for character.”

While most of Winston’s incidents that can be attributed to being young and rambunctious (at best) or entitled (at worst), the sexual assault allegation carries the greatest concern.  But the Bucs didn’t interview his accuser, Erica Kinsman.  Last month, she filed a civil lawsuit against Winston.

“That was investigated three times,” Smith told King. “No charges were filed. I understand something happened. But when do you get to the point where you say, ‘We have to let the courts decide, and we abide by their ruling?’ They did not charge Jameis with anything. And at that point, I am going to make the judgment that I am not going to hold this incident against him.”

There’s another ruling to be made, however. And this one will turn on a much lower standard of proof. Ultimately, if a jury accepts Kinsman’s story over Winston’s, her version will prevail.

Regarding the question of getting the facts/allegations directly from Kinsman before the draft, the Bucs were in a no-win situation. If they’d interviewed her and drafted Winston anyway, her lawyers undoubtedly would have issued a press release on Friday morning expressing confusion and outrage at the team’s decision to disregard her explanation.

Either way, that portion of Winston’s off-field portfolio has a long way to go, with Kinsman and Winston inevitably giving depositions with starkly conflicting versions of the events and — barring a settlement — both of them testifying in open court at a trial.

Absent a settlement that Winston’s camp vows won’t happen, the process will be at times a distraction for Winston and the Buccaneers. The outcome could potentially end up being a major distraction for the player and the team, especially if Winston loses and is required to pay a seven-figure judgment to Kinsman.

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Broncos waive Paul Cornick

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The Broncos were busy when it came to acquiring offensive linemen in the last few days with two draft picks and four undrafted rookies joining the roster.

It’s not a big surprise that the Broncos would be adding new blockers with head coach Gary Kubiak installing a different style of offense than the team ran under John Fox and Adam Gase over the last three seasons. It’s also not surprising that all the new arrivals will lead to some departures from players who no longer fit the bill.

On Monday, the Broncos announced that they waived tackle Paul Cornick. Cornick spent two years on the Denver practice squad before landing a spot on the active roster for the 2014 season. Cornick played 12 games last year and made six starts on the right side of the offensive line in the middle of the season as the team shuffled their options in hopes of finding an effective unit.

Fox and Gase are now in Chicago, which could offer Cornick a landing spot as a free agent if the team is looking to increase their depth options up front on offense. The Broncos also waived wide receiver Jeremy Kelley on Monday.

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Carson Palmer was on field with Cardinals on Monday

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The Cardinals started the second phase of their offseason workouts on Monday, which means that they are permitted to start running plays on the field without helmets or pads.

Among the Cardinals doing that with the first team was quarterback Carson Palmer, who took part in all of the team’s drills in his first practice work since tearing his ACL last season. Palmer said it was hard to remain patient during his rehab, especially since he feels like he has to “start over from scratch” mechanically as a result of the injury.

“I’m always competing against other quarterbacks in the league in my head, and there are a lot of guys not coming off injuries,” Palmer said, via the team’s website. “I have to work that much harder, spend that much more time on it. But that part’s easy for me. I like the work. I like the feeling I have when I go home, just knowing, ‘Man, I’m done. I couldn’t have done any more reps today. I don’t even want my kids to tackle me when I walk in the door today because I’m so tired.’ I enjoy that feeling. That part’s not an issue for me.”

Palmer will have some limitations when the team starts their OTA work, but all signs point to a full return for training camp that puts Palmer on track for a long-awaited return to the starting lineup.

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Steelers line coach admits he was “spoiled” by his stability

Ravens quarterback Flacco  throws despite pass pressure by the Steelers Cameron Heyward during their NFL football game in Baltimore Reuters

The Steelers have needed to get younger on defense for some time.

But having such a veteran core also has obvious benefits, though Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell admits he was “spoiled.”

Having the trio of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel for so long was the foundation of a very good defense for a very long time, which isn’t lost on them as they rebuild.

You are talking about fans and other people — I was spoiled,” Mitchell said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “How often do you get a Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith who play for you for 10 or more years? I was spoiled.

“It made my job very easy. I was spoiled. That doesn’t happen. You guys write about sports. How many teams can you write about that had three guys that played that well for that long of a period of time year in and year out? It made my job easy.”

The end of that era was final in March, when Keisel was released. They continued on the rebuild by using a sixth-rounder on Leterrius Walton from Central Michigan, to go with 2014 draft picks Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers, along with Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon.

“I’m looking for that. I think we are going to have that here again,” Mitchell said. “We are still a little young. Cam Heyward is going to be a heck of a football player. I think Tuitt’s best football is ahead of him. I think Steven McLendon is a guy that stayed in here, worked hard day in and day out. We cut him about four times. He had a never-say-never attitude.

“I think the same thing with Dan McCullers. . . . He’s in great shape right now, he understands what we are going to do and he’s here. I’m excited about this football team. I’m excited about the defensive line.”

It might not be a group that spoils him the way his old group did, but it had become clear the time for change had come.

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Joe Barksdale works out for Falcons

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The Falcons added one tackle to the roster in the draft and it looks like they have thoughts of adding some more experienced help to their offensive line as well.

Field Yates of ESPN.com reports that the team had veteran tackle Joe Barksdale in for a workout. Barksdale has started 29 games as a right tackle for the Rams over the last two years and represents a potential upgrade over Atlanta’s incumbent at the position Ryan Schraeder.

Barksdale has drawn interest from the Titans and he’s also been linked to a return to the Rams, something St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said remained a possibility when he spoke to the media during the draft. That hasn’t led to a deal, though, and the trip to Atlanta could result in an improved offer from the Rams if they think the Falcons will wind up signing him away in the coming days.

The Falcons drafted tackle Jake Rodgers in the seventh round last Saturday and signed Mike Person as a free agent, but things have otherwise been quiet on the acquisition front on Atlanta’s offensive line.

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Zach Mettenberger not giving up easily (though he will eventually)

Zach Mettenberger AP

Yes, the Titans stuck to their pick and drafted Marcus Mariota. Yes, they plan to start him.

Someone should probably mention those two facts to incumbent quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who believes he still has a shot at the starting job there.

Titans tackle Taylor Lewan, who is Mettenberger’s closest friend on the team, said the second-year passer is determined to hang onto the job which was bestowed upon him midway through last season when all the Titans’ other options were either hurt or useless.

“That is the mentality that Zach has. He thinks of himself as a starter, and the guys in the locker room do also. I don’t think he is going to give it up easily,” Lewan told Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean. “Mariota, I don’t know the guy and I am sure he is a great worker and from everything I hear about him he’s a great guy. But Zach is not the kind of guy who in conflict is going to flee. He’s going to fight it out.”

Lewan said he went by Mettenberger’s house after Mariota was drafted, and was with him at workouts at the team facility Friday and Monday. Lewan also said Mettenberger never asked to be traded, blaming that report on his agent.

“Obviously being 23 years old, you don’t ever want to see that happen. It’s hard man, that stuff is tough. If I was in that situation I’d have a tougher time than he did,” Lewan said. “But the kind of guy Mettenberger is, he, . . . doesn’t care what round someone is drafted in or what pick necessarily. He is there to be successful and he is going to work his butt off.”

The Titans were talking up Mettenberger all offseason (while they were fishing for trade offers for the No. 2 pick), so it stands to reason he should have confidence. But he should also realize that he’s a backup again, with Mariota in town, the offense is likely going to skew away from his strengths and toward those of the guy they picked in the first round.

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Mychal Kendricks joins Eagles workouts

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Linebacker Mychal Kendricks opted not to take part in the first phase of the Eagles’ offseason workout program and found his way into the swirl of trade rumors that enveloped the team leading up to the draft.

The Eagles never wound up making the big jump up the draft board in the first round with a package including Kendricks, though, and coach Chip Kelly said after the first round ended that he expected Kendricks to be with the team as they move forward toward the 2015 season.

The next step forward was the start of the second phase of workouts, which include on-field work, on Monday and Kendricks decided to make an appearance. According to multiple reports, Kendricks was at the team’s facility and taking part in the session with his teammates for the first time this offseason.

Kendricks joins Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans at inside linebacker for the Eagles and that depth is part of the reason why Kendricks’s name came up in trade chatter in the first place. It’s also why there’s probably still a chance for a deal if someone should make Chip Kelly an appealing offer down the road before Kendricks starts the final year of his contract with Philly.

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Lawrence Taylor Jr. gets 10 years in prison for sex crimes

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Lawrence Taylor Jr., son of Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, will spend the next 10 years in prison after a plea deal on statutory rape and child molestation charges.

Taylor took the plea just before his trial was set to start on Monday in Cobb County, Georgia.

The 33-year-old Taylor was accused of sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls in 2012 and 2013.

Lawrence Taylor Sr., who played for the Giants from 1981 to 1993, has had his own legal issues, including a guilty plea to charges of patronizing a prostitute and sexual misconduct in connection with an encounter with an underage sex worker.

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Bills, Dolphins courting La’el Collins

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The always-intriguing AFC East currently has gotten even more interesting.

With former LSU offensive lineman La’El Collins undrafted in the wake of a double-murder investigation for which he isn’t a suspect but hasn’t been fully exonerated, two teams in the AFC East are actively pursuing Collins.

Via Ben Wallace of the New Orleans Advocate, the Bills and Dolphins have scheduled meetings with Collins.  A league source tells PFT that Bills coach Rex Ryan has traveled to Baton Rouge to visit Collins.  Ryan is particularly interested in converting Collins to guard.

Other teams remain on the fence about Collins, erring on the side of shying away from him until he receives unequivocal clearance.  But as with any other player, 31 teams can shout “no”; it only takes one to whisper “yes.”  With two teams in the AFC East interested, that “yes” could be a lot louder than that.

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Kam Chancellor’s half-brother Keenan Lambert among Seahawks undrafted free agents

Keenan Lambert AP

In addition to reaching an agreement with 34-year-old long snapper and former Green Beret Nate Boyer, the Seattle Seahawks have brought in Kam Chancellor’s half-brother as a part of their undrafted free agent class.

Keenan Lambert, a safety from Norfolk State, is among the 12 undrafted free agents to reach deals with the Seahawks following the conclusion of the draft on Saturday. Lambert and Chancellor share the same mother, Karen Lambert.

Lambert recently joined many members of the Seahawks for their unofficial offseason workouts in Hawaii in April.

In addition to Boyer and Lambert, the Seahawks agreed to terms with Idaho tackle Jesse Davis, Arizona wide receiver Austin Hill, LSU safety Ronald Martin, Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, Central Michigan running back Thomas Rawls, Auburn cornerback Trovon Reed, West Georgia defensive end Tory Slater, dismissed former Ohio State running back Rod Smith and UT-San Antonio safety Triston Wade.

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Spielman won’t say whether “commitment” will be made to Peterson

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Contrary to whatever it was that Cris Carter was hinting about last week, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wasn’t traded. And Peterson’s agent has acknowledged that a trade won’t happen — but that the Vikings should extend “a commitment to make him retire as a Viking.”

Appearing recently on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman declined to comment on whether that commitment will be made.

“He is a player under contract,” Spielman said. “We never discuss with any of our players any financial consequences or anything financial with players’ contracts. We never discuss them publicly. That is kept internally, hopefully between the agent, the player, and ourselves, regardless of what the player is. There’s nothing I can tell you. All I can tell you at this point he is under contract with the Vikings. We intend to honor his contract in the ’15 season as we look forward to having him rejoin our team.”

Apart from whether a “commitment” will be made to Peterson, Spielman made it clear that he wants Peterson to remain with the team indefinitely.

“I think Adrian has done a lot for this organization,” Spielman said. “He made a mistake. He’s done a lot for this community. If we didn’t believe in Adrian Peterson, he wouldn’t be here. . . . He paid his consequences for that mistake and I think it’s time for everybody to just move on.”

The only remaining question is whether Peterson will show up for any portion of the offseason program, and whether he’ll appear for training camp. If he chooses not to play in 2015, he’ll owe the Vikings $2.4 million in previously-paid bonus money. If he plays, he’ll get $12.75 million.

If he shows up for the upcoming Organized Team Activities, he’ll get another $250,000 — making it an even $13 million for 2015.

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Pettine confirms McCown is the favorite to start over Manziel

Mike Pettine, Johnny Manziel AP

Browns coach Mike Pettine says Josh McCown looks like he’ll open training camp as the starting quarterback, ahead of Johnny Manziel.

Asked on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland if McCown is the favorite to be the starting quarterback going into training camp, Pettine said, “I think it’s fair to say that.”

According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, a Browns spokesman said Pettine’s answer referred to McCown being the favorite to begin camp as the starter, but not necessarily to begin the season as the starter. Still, the quarterback who enters training camp as the starter is usually the quarterback who enters the season as the starter.

And in Cleveland, that’s McCown. Manziel did nothing as a rookie to make Pettine think he deserves to be the starting quarterback, and will have to do something in training camp to unseat McCown for the job.

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NFL explains “Los Angeles Rams” web page

St. Louis Rams v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

As a trio of NFL franchises slowly circle Los Angeles, a now-removed quirk in the league’s official website suggested that at least one of them will eventually land there. The NFL claims there’s nothing to it.

Via Joe Holleman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the NFL says that a “Los Angeles Rams” page arises from a glitch in the website that assigns teams to cities that used to have teams.

“It’s a bug in the system that, when you manipulate the URL, will pull up a legacy team from that city if no current one exists,” NFL spokesman Alex Riethmiller told Holleman.

So by putting in “LA” as the search term, a page emerged for the Los Angeles Rams. That page has since been removed.

“The same error occurs if you change the URL to ‘BOS.’ In that case, a Boston Patriots page will show up with New England Patriots content,” Riethmiller said.

The St. Louis task force charged with solving the team’s stadium problem locally accepts the NFL’s version of the events.

‘We’re perfectly satisfied with the explanation and appreciate that they reached out to us,” said a statement from the task force.

The explanation appears to be legitimate. Using the code “PHO” returns a page for the Phoenix Cardinals.

But the glitch has its limits. Inserting “POT” unfortunately does not return a page for the Pottsville Maroons.

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