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Haystack of NFL evidence has a few possible bounty needles

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The 50,000 pages in the bounty file became fewer than 200 that were given to the NFLPA on Friday, which via careful, time-consuming, page-by-page scrutiny by yours truly reveal a handful of documents that suggest the existence of a bounty program in New Orleans.

There’s no doubt that the Saints maintained an illegal pay-for-performance program, which rewarded defensive players for good plays and penalized them for mental errors and penalties. For that violation, the coaches and the team should indeed be punished.  As to player discipline, the question is whether and to what extent players offered, paid, or received money for the infliction of injury on opponents.

As Gantt mentioned on Monday afternoon, one document indicates that several persons pledged money to what is described in at least one of the other documents as a “kitty pool” for the 2009 NFC title game against the Vikings, and that several of the contributions were tied to the opposing quarterback, Brett Favre.

The league didn’t produce to the NFLPA a copy of the handwritten notes.  Instead, the league converted the handwritten notes into a typed document, providing the typed document and not the handwritten notes.

For the non-lawyers in the crowd, this is very unusual.  Disputes routinely involve handwritten notes, which may or may not readily be legible.  The standard procedure in such situations is to:  (1) figure out who wrote the notes; and (2) question that person as to what the notes say.  In 18 years of practicing law, I never encountered or heard of a party to any type of litigation converting handwritten notes to typed notes, producing the typed notes, and not producing the handwritten notes for scrutiny and witness questioning.

In this case, at a bare minimum, the NFL should have produced both — especially since the NFLPA will now argue that the typed version does not qualify as an acceptable alternative, and that the typed notes should not be considered because they weren’t produced at least three days before the appeal hearing.

With that caveat, the typed translation of the handwritten notes state “Vilma $10,000 QB,” which the NFL presumably interprets as linebacker Jonathan Vilma pledging $10,000 to anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the game.  The document similarly indicates that defensive end Charles Grant pledged $10,000 with the “QB” designation, as did non-Saints employee Mike Ornstein.  The notes likewise reflect that assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt contributed $5,000 to the “QB out pool,” and that linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Will Smith contributed $2,000 and $5,000, respectively, to the “General Pool.”  (Vitt’s lawyer, David Cornwell told PFT on Monday night that Vitt was never accused nor suspected of contributing money to a bounty pool.)  Finally, safety Darren Sharper pledged $5,000 for a “Pick 6” and “QB hits.”

Another document (also a typed version of handwritten notes) lists a variety of names and amounts, with no specific designation as to what the amount reflects.  The presence of Ornstein on the list, along with $5,000, suggests that it’s a list of pledges for an unknown game.  Vilma is down for $2,000, Smith for $1,500, Grant for $1,500, linebacker Scott Shanle for $500, cornerback Leigh Torrence for $500, and “Evans” (presumably linebacker Troy) for $500.  The document in a separate column states “Fujita to DL,” with “$500 Sack” and “$500 FF” below that.

Other documents raise questions, including a 2009 email from Ornstein to Gregg Willliams regarding future contributions from Ornstein, and an October 11, 2009 email from former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo to Williams that says, “Here’s Ornstein’s slide, I also added Jets injury to our Monday slide . . . Here’s what it looks like.”  (The Saints played the Jets on October 4; October 11 was the Sunday of the Saints’ bye week.)

One item lists the “Kill the Head Totals” for 2010, with Vilma leading the way at 62.  It’s unclear what “Kill the Head” means in that context.  Another document shows safety Roman Harper being paid $1,000 for a “cart-off” against the Giants, with no indication as to the subject of the “cart-off” or what specifically happened to him.

Finally, the slide containing the photo of “Dog The Bounty Hunter” looks bad on the surface, but it seems to be an exaggeration, with entries like “Must suspected be delivered dead or alive?”

Though most of the documents produced by the NFL to the NFLPA contain no evidence of a bounty program, a few of the pages keep the bounty case alive.  But it may not be enough to constitute persuasive and adequate evidence that players paid, offered to pay, or received money for inflicting injuries — especially without the handwritten notes and in the absence of testimony from the person(s) who created them.

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Slim chance Romo plays again this year

Tony Romo AP

On Friday, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will find out whether his left clavicle has indeed been fractured again. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the bone most likely has once again been broken.

If it’s broken, Romo won’t play again this year. But what if it’s not broken?

ESPN’s Ed Werder reports that Romo’s season is over regardless of the outcome of the CT scan. PFT has been told, however, that there’s still a slim chance Romo will return.

First, the collarbone would have to not be broken. Second, the Cowboys would have to win multiple games without Romo in order to make his return in three weeks or so relevant to the team’s effort to catch the Giants in the NFC East.

That’s a tall order, given that the Cowboys are 0-7 without Romo in 2015.

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Lacy rolling early, just misses blooper-reel play

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Eddie Lacy is running like he has something to prove, and the Packers have an early 7-0 lead on the Bears.

Lacy turned a short pass from Aaron Rodgers into a 25-yard touchdown with 5:15 left in the first quarter. After losing his starting job earlier this season amid struggles with injuries and his weight, Lacy looks fast and determined tonight.

The touchdown survived a review. Lacy flipped the ball backwards near the goal line, close enough that a second and third look were necessary to make sure the ball had crossed the goal line before he flung it backwards into the air.

It would have been the kind of blooper-reel play that lived for a long time.

Lacy has 6 carries for 48 yards. He had a 29-yard run on the game’s first possession but was stuffed on fourth and 2 as the Packers chose to be aggressive early in the game.

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Watch Bears-Packers on NBC Sports Live Extra

Aaron Rodgers AP

Not everyone is currently crowded around a TV. For those of you who aren’t, you can still see the Thanksgiving NFL nightcap.

The Bears-Packers contest can be seen at NBC Sports Live Extra. You also can watch the game by downloading the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

After a couple of snoozers to start the day, here’s hoping the Bears give the Packers all they can handle, while you keep giving your gullet all the food and drink it can handle. And then some.

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Source: “Most likely” a small fracture for Romo

Tony Romo AP

X-rays apparently were inconclusive. By Friday, an answer will emerge as to the status of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s twice-broken left collarbone.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there’s “most likely” a small fracture in the bone.

After Thursday’s loss, Romo told reporters that the sensation was similar to his past experiences with breaking the bone. He’ll have a CT scan to determine whether the bone is indeed broken.

If it’s broken, Romo undoubtedly will be done for the year. If it’s not broken, it’ll be interesting to see when he returns — especially with the Cowboys at 3-8.

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Tony Romo: Shoulder “feels similar” to first broken collarbone

Tony Romo AP

Tony Romo’s immediate reaction gave no reason for optimism.

And while they’re not calling it yet, there’s not much reason for any.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he didn’t have any update on the injured left shoulder that knocked his quarterback out Sunday, but Romo didn’t seem confident, as he stood at the podium with his left arm in a sling.

Via Ed Werder of ESPN, Romo said “It feels similar” to the broken clavicle he suffered in Week Two against the Eagles, but that he wanted to wait for more tests tomorrow.

Romo landed hard on his shoulder near the end of the third quarter, as he was being tackled by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis. He immediately grabbed his left shoulder, in obvious pain.

Now the questions will turn to whether Romo returned too soon from what Jones said was six fractures. He was wearing extra padding to try to protect the area, but it clearly didn’t work.

And now, the Cowboys can’t expect to either.

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Panthers stay perfect with thorough thrashing of Cowboys

Luke Kuechly, Bene' Benwikere, Cole Beasley AP

The Panthers stayed undefeated, and made perhaps their most convincing case yet that their 11-0 record is not an accident.

And the Cowboys found out there was something worse than Tony Romo throwing three interceptions in the first half.

The Panthers rolled to a dominant 33-14 win over the Cowboys, whose nightmare season took another turn as Romo left late in the third quarter to get X-rays on his left clavicle.

While that dropped the Cowboys to 3-8, it also extinguished any hope they had of turning things around if Romo’s not going to be able to return. They had a bit of confidence when he came back last week and helped them snap a seven-game losing streak, which coincided with his absence from his first broken left clavicle.

But for the Panthers, it was a celebration long before Romo gave way to Matt Cassel.

They turned three Romo interceptions into 17 points in the first half and never looked back, sustaining drives in the second half with a powerful run game. They needed it, as the Cowboys played well enough defensively in the first half to keep it reasonably close.

But at this point, the Panthers’ formula is evident, as they won their 15th straight regular season game, dating back to last season. By the time they play their next game on Dec. 6, it will be 371 days since they last lost a regular season game (Nov. 30, 2014 at the Vikings).

They can run the ball, topping 100 yards as a team for the 22nd straight game.

They can pass-protect better than advertised, keeping a largely clean pocket for Cam Newton, and negating Greg Hardy’s effort at revenge. Newton was sacked just once, and Hardy made no impact on the game against his old team.

They can stop the run, limiting Dallas to 16 rushing yards in the first half and just 15 in the second.

And they can create takeaways, as they entered the week leading the league in turnovers created and points off turnovers. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had a pair of interceptions, returning one for a score (after safety Kurt Coleman had a pick-six of his own).

It’s a formula that could carry them to the Super Bowl, and give them a serious chance at a 16-0 season. Their remaining five games are at New Orleans, at home against the Falcons, followed by back-to-back road games against the Giants and Falcons and their home finale against the Buccaneers.

While they were a Vegas underdog to start this week, it’s hard to see that being the case again, unless the oddsmakers see the trip to New York as a potential slip.

But even if they do lose a game at some point, they showed a national audience Thursday that their success is legitimate, and that they’re one of the two most dangerous teams in the league.

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Forte, Jeffery active for Thursday nightcap

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The Bears will have running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the lineup for Thursday night’s game at Green Bay.

Forte (knee) and Jeffery (groin) had been listed as questionable. Forte has missed the last three games, and rookie Jeremy Langford has played well in his place.

As previously announced, the Bears will be without tight end Martellus Bennett (ribs) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (knee). Bennett leads the Bears with 50 receptions, while Jeffery leads the team with 515 receiving yards.

Linebacker Pernell McPhee, who had also been questionable with a knee injury, will also play. Starting defensive Will Sutton was not on the injury report but is inactive.

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X-rays for Romo on left collarbone

Tony Romo AP

In the second game of the season, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo broke his left collarbone. In his second game back from the injury, he may have broken it again.

Via Tracy Wolfson of CBS, Romo currently is getting X-rays on the clavicle, which owner Jerry Jones recently suggested was broken in multiple places.

‘To give you an idea, if you ever want to make a picture of his positive competitive mentality, do it when he came back off a shoulder that had six fractures,” Jones said Sunday, after a 24-14 win at Miami. “OK? Six. OK!”

Regardless of whether it’s one break or more, the Cowboys are now facing life without Romo again, which would almost certainly bring an end to a season that started with such high expectations, after an unexpected surge to 12-4 in 2014.

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Panthers rolling, Tony Romo leaves game after shot to shoulder

Cam Newton, Randy Gregory AP

It looked like the Cowboys were going to trade field goals with the Panthers to open the second half.

But then they made another mistake, one that they can’t trace to Tony Romo, and the Panthers are pulling away.

After Cowboys rookie Byron Jones was flagged for leaping over the line on a field goal try, the Panthers kept the drive going and finally found the end zone on offense.

Cam Newton ran in from 4 yards out, giving the Panthers a 30-6 lead late in the third quarter.

But the news got worse for Dallas, as Romo went down on the next to last play of the third quarter, landing hard on his left shoulder. That’s the one with the broken collarbone that cost him seven games.

So as bad as the game is for the Cowboys, the news could be getting even worse.

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Greg Hardy not able to start the second half

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Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy wanted to prove to the Panthers they made a mistake letting him go.

But he hasn’t been able to make an impact on the game so far, and he wasn’t even on the field when the second half began.

Hardy didn’t record a statistic in the first half, the Panthers lead 23-3. Then when they came out for the second half, Hardy came out without a helmet, and took a seat on the bench.

Via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Hardy was taking oxygen on the sidelines during the first series of the second half. Hardy has dealt with asthma his entire career.

UPDATE 6:35 p.m. ET: Hardy returned to the field for the second possession.

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Tony Romo keeps throwing picks, Panthers lead 20-3

Tony Romo

The Panthers aren’t having as much success offensively as they’re accustomed to.

They might not need to do much more.

Luke Kuechly just returned an interception for a touchdown, the second pick-six of Tony Romo on the day, giving the Panthers a 20-3 lead in the second quarter.

Coupled with Kurt Coleman’s touchdown and then another pick by Kuechly, the Panthers are rolling in the late stages of the second quarter.

The big mistakes from Romo have undermined an otherwise good day by his defense, which has kept Cam Newton frustrated, forcing him to settle for a pair of field goals. But with the job the Panthers are doing on Romo (Dez Bryant still doesn’t have a catch), Newton will eventually end up smiling.

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Colts claim RB Boom Herron

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The Colts claimed running back Boom Herron on Thursday, bringing back the player who emerged as their top running back in last year’s playoffs.

Herron was waived-injured by the Colts after he was injured in the final preseason game, then released with an injury settlement. He signed with the Bills and played four games before being waived Wednesday.

Running back Zurlon Tipton was waived to make room for Herron on the roster.

A sixth-round pick of the Bengals in 2012, Herron played five games for the Colts in 2013 after being signed off of the Bengals’ practice squad. He played in all 16 games and made three starts for the Colts last season. He ran well down the stretch, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and ran 45 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts’ three playoff games.

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Report: Patriots placing Dobson on IR

Aaron Dobson AP

An ankle injury has ended the season for Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

ESPN’s Field Yates reported Thursday that the team will place Dobson on injured reserve and replace him on the roster with safety Dewey McDonald.

Dobson suffered what was originally diagnosed as a high ankle sprain during last Monday’s win over the Bills. The Patriots are low on receivers with Julian Edelman out for an extended period, Danny Amendola dealing with a knee injury and Keshawn Martin dealing with a hamstring injury, so the loss of Dobson is significant even though he was not a starter.

The injury situation forced the Patriots to work out three wide receivers on Wednesday.

The Patriots claimed McDonald from the Colts earlier in the season. He’s been on and off the roster since then and is primarily a special teams player.

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Panthers start things off with a quick pick-six

Kurt Coleman AP

It’s hard to imagine not being able to see a Panthers player in these eye-popping blue uniforms they’re wearing today.

And yet, Tony Romo just did.

The Panthers took a quick 7-0 lead in Dallas, with Kurt Coleman picking off Romo and returning it for a touchdown.

The interception was Coleman’s fifth of the year for the Panthers, as he’s proven to be an excellent free agent pickup for a defense that continues to create turnovers.

They followed by forcing a quick three-and-out, establishing an early tone.

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Washington loses Chris Culliver to torn ACL in practice

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Getty Images

It’s getting harder for Washington to be thankful today.

According to John Keim of, Washington cornerback Chris Culliver is out for the season, after suffering a torn ACL in practice today.

Culliver joined the team in free agency in March, but hadn’t exactly lived up to his four-year, $32 million contract. He was also suspended a game earlier this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Washington is reasonably deep at the position, considering they’ve been working veteran DeAngelo Hall at safety. But with Culliver’s injury coming so late in the season, there will be some reasonable concern as to whether he’ll be ready for next year’s opener.

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