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James Harrison doesn’t know who Ken Stabler is

AP

Before the question can be asked regarding whether current players care about former players, the first question is whether the current players even know who the former players are.

Earlier this week, a concussion lawsuit led by former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler pointed to the fact that the league’s Super Bowl XLVI commercial regarding decades of changes to the rules fails to mention “how recidivist violators like James Harrison (who has had five illegal hits on quarterbacks in three seasons) are allowed to continue to play the game.”

We noticed that language, appearing at paragraph 145 and page 65 of the 209-paragraph, 80-page complaint, we mentioned it, Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review repeated it, and Harrison was asked about it on Thursday by Tim Benz of WXDX radio.

Here’s the relevant exchange.

Benz:  “James, are you aware of the story about the lawsuit mentioning your name in Philadelphia and if so what’s your reaction to it?”

Harrison:  “I’m not aware of it.”

Benz:  “Ken Stabler and some of the other former pro football players in a concussion suit referenced you as a guy that was a repeat offender and maybe should be out of the game.  When you hear former players say that about you –”

Harrison:  “Who is — Ken who?”

Benz:  “Ken Stabler.”

Harrison:  “Who is that?”

Benz:  “Former Raider quarterback.”

Harrison:  “Never heard of him.  His opinion doesn’t matter to me.”

Frankly, Stabler’s opinion shouldn’t matter to Harrison.  But it’s a little surprising that Harrison has never heard of the guy.

We realize that plenty of the men who play pro football aren’t passionate fans of the game.  And we don’t expect football players to be football historians.  But for a key member of the Steelers to not know the name of a Super Bowl-era quarterback who won a Super Bowl and who played quarterback in some of the most celebrated games in Steelers history is a little strange.

Then again, if Ken Stabler’s opinion doesn’t matter to Harrison, mine definitely doesn’t.

“Who is — Mike who?”

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Jourdan Lewis found not guilty of domestic assault

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An Ann Arbor, Mich., jury found Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis not guilty of domestic assault, according to John Counts of mlive.com. After a little more than an hour of deliberation, a six-member jury determined Lewis did not criminally assault this girlfriend in March.

Per Counts, Lewis did not take the stand, but jurors heard his side of the story in a video recording of his initial interview with police. Lewis’ girlfriend, Nikole Miller, woke him up when she arrived home to find him asleep with the lights on, angering her. Lewis hit her with the pillow he was sleeping on.

“The pillow I was on, I hit her with it,” he said at one point, but also saying at another point that he “threw” the pillow at her.

Lewis was adamant to police that he didn’t strike her with his hands at any point. Instead, Lewis said Miller struck him after he called her a derogatory name.

Miller initially told police Lewis squeezed her neck when he held her down, but when she was interviewed a second time, that detail changed, according to testimony.

Police officers testified that the apartment didn’t appear in disarray as they would expect in an altercation.

Lewis will join his teammates in Oxnard, Calif., after missing the first two days of practice.

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Alex Smith not concerned about Tamba Hali’s tweets, or any tweets

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Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali expressed his displeasure with the team on Twitter, but Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith isn’t concerned.

That’s partially because Smith believes Hali has proven he’ll always be there for his teammates when it counts, and partially because Smith couldn’t care less about social media at all.

“I didn’t read all of them,” Smith said of Hali’s tweets. “I did hear about it. To be honest, I don’t think it is a huge deal, I don’t want to turn it into anything big. I think Tamba is one of the most unique teammates I have ever had and I mean that in a good way. He is a guy that says what’s on his mind. He is honest. He is sincere. I think I appreciate that about him. Sometimes there are things that are said that just comes out. So, to be honest, I don’t think it is a big deal. I don’t think it’s anything anyone has to worry about. This locker room is as drama free as they come, so I don’t think it will be an issue.”

Smith said he’s personally not on social media, so he doesn’t get involved in the drama that surrounds social media.

“I kind of missed that wave,” Smith said. “That wave passed me by. I remember coming into the league and MySpace was big. I didn’t get on that train and then the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all roads passed me. At this point it is kind of refreshing.”

So we will never see Smith complain about the Chiefs on Twitter. Or on MySpace.

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Report: Kenneth Dixon out for the year

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Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon underwent knee surgery Tuesday that was expected to keep him out 6-8 weeks. Instead, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Dixon will miss the season.

Dixon needed his medial meniscus repaired, not trimmed, requiring a 4-5 month recovery time, according to Rapoport. It was Dixon’s third knee injury in the past 12 months.

Dixon was set to miss the first four games for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.

The Ravens already agreed to terms with Bobby Rainey to take Dixon’s place in camp. Terrance West and Danny Woodhead are the team’s top running backs with Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro (who is seeing time at fullback as well) also in the mix.

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Reuben Foster expected to be full go for training camp

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The 49ers expect rookie linebacker Reuben Foster to be a full participant for the start of training camp, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.

San Francisco took a cautious approach with Foster in the spring as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery, holding him out of team practices.

During the draft, some teams worried about the February surgery Foster underwent to repair his right rotator cuff. He feel to 31st, where the 49ers were comfortable in selecting him.

Foster has remained at the team training facility after the offseason program ended.

He will compete with Malcolm Smith at weakside linebacker.

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Raiders place Ben Heeney, Cooper Helfet on NFI

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The Raiders placed linebacker Ben Heeney and tight end Cooper Helfet on the non-football injury list Tuesday.

Heeney ended last season on injured reserve after a Week Four ankle injury, but a non-football injury would indicate this is a different injury. Heeney did not fully participate in the team’s offseason program.

Heeney began last season as the starting middle linebacker, but he lost his job after two games and tore the deltoid ligament in his right ankle two weeks later.

Helfet signed with the Raiders’ practice squad last October. He played 24 games with the Seahawks in 2014-15, with 25 career receptions for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

The Raiders can activate either player at any time.

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Mike Brown on keeping Adam Jones: Blame me if it doesn’t work

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The Bengals decided not to part ways with cornerback Adam Jones this offseason after he was arrested in January after an altercation at a Cincinnati hotel, but team owner Mike Brown says that parting ways with Jones did come up for discussion.

Jones pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor to settle the case and was suspended one game by the league last week. Brown said Jones “has misstepped from time to time,” but that he admires many things about the player and said he made the call to keep him on the team.

“I’m not going to say something wasn’t discussed, something wasn’t considered,” Brown said, via Joe Kay of the Associated Press. “But what we did is what we did, and I’ll take responsibility for it. We’ll see how it turns out in the end. It if turns out well, I’ll be pleased. If it doesn’t, then blame me.”

The topic of drafting running back Joe Mixon also came up during the team’s preseason luncheon and Brown, who previously wrote a letter explaining the Mixon pick that was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, said he doesn’t “see what’s served by denying someone his opportunity.”

Bob Costas didn’t share the same view during an appearance on CNN last weekend when he said that the Bengals “seem to have been running a halfway house for miscreants” at points in their history. Brown took issue with that (and showed his age) by saying he isn’t “Ma Barker” and that the team does not have “the James boys and Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger” in their locker room.

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Latest brain study shows 110 of 111 donations from NFL players had CTE

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While researchers admit their methodology isn’t exact and they’re not predicting rates for the future, the latest study regarding the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy shows a strong correlation.

Via Rick Maese of the Washington Post, researchers at Boston University who are studying brains donated by families of former NFL players said that 110 of the 111 donations showed signs of CTE.

While that’s not a random sample reflecting the entire sport (the donations come largely from players who were struggling with some issue or had committed suicide), the big numbers do alarm those studying the issue.

“Obviously, this doesn’t represent the prevalence in the general population, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a number of cases in such a short period of time says that this disease is not uncommon,” neuropathologist Ann McKee said. “In fact, I think it’s much more common than we currently realize. And more importantly, this is a problem in football that we need to address and we need to address now in order to bring some hope and optimism to football players.”

All told, the Boston University study covered 202 brains donated by families of men who had played some level of football. CTE was discovered in 177 of them (87 percent). The 99 percent of former NFL players was the highest level. The study also showed CTE in 3-of-14 who played at the high school level (21.4 percent), 48-of-53 who played in college (90.6 percent), 9-of-14 who competed semiprofessionally (64.3 percent) and 7-of-8 who played in the CFL (87.5).

McKee said the study provides: “overwhelming circumstantial evidence that CTE is linked to football.”

The league has pledged to devote $100 million and resources toward the effort, and spoke at the league meetings this spring about specific research into helmet safety.

“We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement provided to PFT. “Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advancing the science and progress related to head trauma. The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes. As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE.  The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.

“In 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million in support for independent medical research and engineering advancements in neuroscience related topics. This is in addition to the $100  million that the NFL and its partners are already spending on medical and neuroscience research.”

The authors of the studies have admitted some limitations, pointing out that the game has changed in recent years from equipment changes to rules. But the sheer size of the numbers still stand as worthy of further study.

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Jaguars lock up Brandon Linder with five-year extension

AP

The Jaguars may not be sure if Blake Bortles is their quarterback for the long term, but they seem to be pretty certain that Brandon Linder is the guy they want snapping the ball.

Jacksonville announced that they have signed starting center Brandon Linder to a five-year extension.

“It was something we wanted to get done so now we can just ball,” Linder said, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “We knew after OTAs we wanted to talk. In the past two weeks [we] got some traction.”

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Jaguars have signed their starting center to the deal is worth up to $51.7 million. The deal also reportedly includes $24 million in guaranteed money.

Linder’s deal puts him at the very top of the salary scale for centers with his average salary per year coming in above what Travis Frederick got in his 2016 extension from the Cowboys.

Linder, who was selected in the third round of the 2014 draft, opened his career at guard in Jacksonville before moving over to center last season. He made 14 starts and it would appear he made a strong impression on Doug Marrone, who was his position coach before moving up to head coach after Gus Bradley was fired last season.

 

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Former Cowboys DE Willie Townes dies at 74

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Former Cowboys defensive end Willie Townes died Saturday, according to Barry Horn of the Dallas Morning News.

Townes, 74, had a recent heart attack and later was discovered to have pancreatic cancer. He was under hospice care at his Dallas-area home.

Townes is best known for his sack of Bart Starr in the Ice Bowl, forcing a fumble in a game that decided the 1967 NFL championship. George Andrie scored on the 7-yard fumble return, though the Packers won 21-17.

“He came home from the Ice Bowl and his hands were still frozen,” Sandra Clark, Townes’ ex-wife, told Horn. “Then the skin began peeling off. They hurt him for the rest of his life. But Willie had a high threshold for pain.”

Townes played five seasons, four with the Cowboys and one with the Saints, including the 1969 season he missed with an injury.

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Michigan store selling Lions 2016 NFC North champions shirts

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The Lions did not win the NFC North in 2016. But if you shop at TJ Maxx in Chesterfield Township, Michigan, you can get a shirt that claims they did.

The store says it received the shirts, which were printed when the Lions were in NFC North contention but not intended to be sold after the Lions lost to the Packers in the last game of the season, by mistake.

“As you know, it is a fairly common practice that vendors print team sports t-shirts in advance of an important game anticipating a winning outcome,” Doreen Thompson, vice president of global communication for the TJX Companies, wrote in an email to the Detroit Free Press. “In this instance, we believe that one of our vendors may have inadvertently included the Detroit Lions t-shirt in with other goods intended for our local area stores. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the normal procedure for officially licensed merchandise bearing the wrong team’s name is for it to be shipped to charities in other countries. In this case, a mistake was made.

“A limited number of shirts are printed in advance for a variety of clubs,” McCarthy wrote. “We’ve been in contact with the manufacturer to ensure these shirts are pulled.”

The shirts were on sale for $4.99, and could make a great gift for the Lions fan in your life, alongside the 2013 team calendar.

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Panthers waive Charles Johnson (the wide receiver, not the defensive end)

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The Panthers are down to one Charles Johnson on the roster.

The team announced on Tuesday that they have waived wide receiver Charles Johnson with an injury designation. The wideout, who signed with the team this offseason, had surgery on his right knee.

Johnson spent the last three seasons with the Vikings and caught 60 passes for 834 yards and two touchdowns.

The Panthers also announced that they have waived defensive end Ryan Delaire after a failed physical. He played six games last season and ended the year on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Carolina also signed center Greg Van Roten, who played in 10 games with the Packers during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He has also spent time with the Seahawks, Jaguars and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

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Saints signing Kristjan Sokoli, who will play OL

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The Saints are signing offensive lineman Kristjan Sokoli, his agent, Brett Tessler, tweeted.

Sokoli was a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2015 and has played offensive line and defensive line. He played eight plays, all on special teams, as a rookie.

The Seahawks waived Sokoli on Aug. 30, 2016, and the Colts signed him to their practice squad as a defensive end on Sept. 26. He was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 19. The Colts waived him June 15.

The Saints will try Sokoli in the offensive line, according to Tessler.

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NFLPA gathering info about Lucky Whitehead’s release

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The Cowboys used a fire-ready-aim approach to the termination of Lucky Whitehead. The NFL Players Association will use a more deliberate approach in responding to the situation.

Then again, anything would be more deliberate than what the Cowboys did.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA have begun the process of exploring the situation, reaching out to Whitehead and his agent, David Rich, for more information.

That doesn’t mean anything will happen. Indeed, there may be nothing that can be done when a team exercises its prerogative to waive a player for off-field reasons that may be factually inaccurate.

The best argument possibly comes from paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract, which authorizes termination “if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club.” If Whitehead actually didn’t engage in the conduct that the team deemed him guilty of engaging in, the termination could be challenged.

But then what? To have any potential recovery, he’d likely have to prove he would have made it to the team’s 53-man roster come September. And that seems speculative at best.

Either way, look for nothing to happen until the waiver period expires on Wednesday, since it’s a no-harm, no-foul situation if another team claims his contract.

Also, look for Rich to join PFT Live on Wednesday to discuss one or the more bizarre NFL sets of facts in recent history.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 1: New England Patriots

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Two weeks. 16 days. 31 individual snapshots of the various NFL franchises. One to go.

You already knew which team it would be after we unveiled No. 2 (hell, you probably knew who it was before we unveiled No. 32). The Patriots. Five-time Super Bowl winners. Two in the last three years. And, most importantly, the only defending champions to ever mash the gas in an effort to get even better.

Yes, the new G.O.A.T. has an improved roster on both sides of the ball as he tries to get his record-extending sixth Super Bowl win for a quarterback, which also would catch the Steelers for the most by any franchise. They’ll be the overwhelming pick to get there, and to win it. Which, of course, will only make it harder to do.

But do it they can. With an obsessive focus on the here and now, the Patriots never get flustered by the big picture or expectations or anything else that has caused many a contender to slip from contention. And while it would be foolish to hand the Lombardi to the Patriots without playing the 267 games that come before it officially happens, it’s hard to recall a preseason favorite who was more of a postseason favorite than the Patriots.

Biggest positive change: In an offseason with plenty of positive changes, perhaps the biggest addition for 2017 and beyond comes from Buffalo, where the Bills weren’t interested in keeping cornerback Stephon Gilmore — but the Pats were willing to pounce. And since the Patriots have seen Gilmore twice per year for five years, they’ve surely seen something they like. And now they have insurance against the eventual departure of Malcolm Butler, who is sticking around for one more year, and probably only one more year. However they use Gilmore, coach Bill Belichick knows everything Gilmore can and can’t do.

Biggest negative change: For a defending Super Bowl winner, there weren’t nearly as many as usual. The biggest name to leave was a guy no one ever expected to stay — tight end Martellus Bennett. Enter former Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who potentially will help fill the role, if he’s not overwhelmed by the Patriot Way. The addition of other receivers and running backs will help, too, as the Patriots assemble perhaps the best array of offensive weapons they’ve ever had.

Coaching thermometer: 459 below Fahrenheit. Negative 253 Celsius. Absolute zero. Belichick has the job for as long as he wants it. Not even an 0-16 disaster would get him fired, not that an 0-16 disaster would ever happen to him. The real question is whether they go 16-0 for the second time in 10 years. And indeed they could.

We’d like to have a beer with . . . Belichick. Everyone who knows him swears that when he gets away from football he’s not the cold, flat, monotonous, day-to-day bad ventriloquist whose mouth moves just enough to confirm that he’s the one who’s talking and/or breathing. So let’s get him away from football and get him a beer and talk about boats or Bon Jovi or the history of the single wing or whatever tickles his fancy and gets him to act like something other than a cyborg whose only sign of humanity is the fact that he’s gaining wrinkles and losing hair.

How they could prove us wrong: It won’t take much to prove us wrong, because any deviation from wire-to-wire No. 1 seed would prove us wrong. The only potential vulnerability may be man-to-man coverage, which seemed to work (relatively speaking) when deployed by the Houston and Atlanta defenses in the postseason. The Steelers are hoping to use it more in an effort to match up better with the Patriots, who can’t be covered effectively in zone because Tom Brady can spot and dismantle any collection of defenders aimed at covering spots and not players.

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Jack Del Rio expects Gareon Conley’s contract will be “resolved shortly”

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All but two of the Raiders rookies have reported to camp in Napa, California and head coach Jack Del Rio said he expects cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu will join them in the near future.

Conley, the team’s first-round pick, was accused of rape shortly before the draft and Cleveland police said this week that the case remains under investigation. Del Rio didn’t say if that was causing a delay in getting the contract done and didn’t detail what might be holding things up with Melifonwu, but he doesn’t expect things to drag out much longer.

“The rules and the structure are such that there’s not a great concern now in our league,” Del Rio said during an appearance on 95.7 The Game with Joe Fortenbaugh, Lorenzo Neal and Dan Dibley. “I think these issues will get resolved shortly and they’ll join the team.”

After drafting Conley, the Raiders said their research left them feeling that Conley would be cleared and Del Rio did say that the team remains “confident about the decision we made and the person we have.”

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