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First female ref in NFL will work Thursday night

Replacement refs made their debut last night in the Hall of Fame Game.

Later this week, more history will be made.

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times reports Shannon Eastin will be part of the crew for Thursday’s Green Bay at San Diego game.

Eastin, who has called college games in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, will be the first woman to work as an on-field official in any NFL game.

While there were some missteps last night, there wasn’t the ridiculous show of ineptitude some expected. As we get deeper and deeper into the bench of the retired and tier-two (or three or four or five) officials, that may happen.

Until then, the outcry over the stalemated officials doesn’t seem to be the kind that will generate pressure on the league to back off its previous offers.

(Photo credit: sesportsofficiating.wordpress.com)

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Rams sign Dan Orlovsky

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With training camp opening soon and just two quarterbacks under contract, the Rams have added a third.

Veteran backup Dan Orlovsky told SportsSpectrum.com today that he is signing with the Rams.

Orlovsky has stuck around in the NFL since the Lions took him in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. He’s had two stints in Detroit as well as stints in Houston, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. He has 12 career starts.

In Los Angeles, Orlovsky will serve as a veteran mentor to Jared Goff, last year’s first overall pick who will be the starter, and Sean Mannion, the 2015 third-round pick who will back Goff up.

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Panthers release Michael Oher

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The Panthers released offensive tackle Michael Oher with a failed physical designation Thursday.

Oher has been in concussion protocol since September. He missed the final 13 games last season. The move was not unexpected but came only days after he defended former Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman while ripping teammates.

In an Instagram post, Oher said that other than head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion and team doctor Robert Heyer, Gettleman was the only other person “who has constantly checked on my well being, my condition and state of mind in the time I’ve been suffering from my injury.”

“Guy really cares about you as a person just not the player also his [sic] always interested in how your family is as well,” Oher wrote. “Hated to hear that news but I know he’ll be fine. And for the people downstairs who are happy and had something to do with it downstairs, Karma’s a MF!!”

Oher joined the Panthers in 2015 and started all 16 regular-season games and three postseason games for a team that won an NFC Championship and made an appearance in Super Bowl 50. He signed a three-year extension with the Panthers last summer and was due to make $2.25 million this season.

The Panthers signed Matt Kalil to play left tackle this offseason and have Daryl Williams and 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moten as options on the other side of the line.

In eight NFL seasons split between Baltimore (2009-13), Tennessee (2014) and Carolina (2015-16), Oher started 110 regular-season games. He was a member of the Baltimore’s Super Bowl XLVII championship team following the 2012 season.

 

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San Diego always will hold special place in LaDainian Tomlinson’s heart

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LaDainian Tomlinson played nine seasons for the Chargers in San Diego. He now works for the Los Angeles Chargers as a special assistant to owner Dean Spanos.

Tomlinson insists he feels no conflict. He said he always will have a special place in his heart for San Diego, while trying to promote the team in Los Angeles.

“I’m going in[to the Hall of Fame] as a San Diego Charger, because that’s actually where I played,” Tomlinson said on a Pro Football Hall of Fame conference call. “I recognize that you cannot erase the history of 56 years in San Diego. I do recognize that. However, I do realize that I do work for Dean Spanos and the L.A. Chargers. There’s no conflict there. I know who I played for, but now in my retirement, I work for the L.A. Chargers, who, in my mind, they’re the Chargers. To me, it’s always been about the lightning bolt, and that’s my thoughts about a conflict and what not.”

Tomlinson earned first-ballot induction into the Hall, rushing for 13,684 yards and 145 touchdowns with most of those (12,490 yards, 138 touchdowns) coming in San Diego before closing out his career with the Jets.

Tomlinson said planning for Hall of Fame weekend, which includes a private party for each inductee, has kept him busy.

“What’s been surprising is how similar it is to planning a wedding,” Tomlinson said. “I feel like I’m getting married again. That’s actually what the process has been like.”

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Chris Johnson heading back to Cardinals

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The Cardinals have talked about getting running back David Johnson 30 touches a game this season, although there’s some doubt about whether that is a realistic goal.

Whether or not that’s the case, they may be able to get running backs with the last name Johnson 30 touches a game. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Cardinals will sign Chris Johnson to their 90-man roster.

Johnson said recently that he’d like to return to the team after spending the last two years in Arizona. He wasn’t able to complete either of those seasons on the active roster, however. Johnson hurt his leg in 2015, opening the door for the younger back to take over the lead role on offense, and had sports hernia surgery early last season.

Johnson, who ran 25 times for 95 yards before last year’s injury, joins Andre Ellington and rookie T.J. Logan as backup options in Arizona.

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Terrell Davis grateful Hall selectors didn’t hold short career against him

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Terrell Davis played only seven seasons. Kenny Easley played only seven seasons.

Both endured long waits for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after their careers ended prematurely because of injury. But both finally were rewarded for what they did in seven seasons. Easley enters the Hall of Fame after making 32 career interceptions and earning defensive player of the year honors in 1984. Davis enters after rushing for 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns in the regular season and He another 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight playoff games. He earned league MVP honors once, offensive player of the year honors twice and Super Bowl MVP honors once.

“I think really you can kind of throw Kurt Warner in the mix a little bit as well,” Davis said on a Pro Football Hall of Fame press conference Thursday. “His position is unique. . . .Yeah, I think that’s one thing that shouldn’t really evaluated when you talk about players making it to the Hall of Fame is the length of their career. I think what I was pleased with this year was to see Kenny Easley go in and to see myself go in. To be two guys whose careers weren’t as long as a lot of guys that we’re going to be standing next to. I think the selection committee, they’re looking at impact alone and saying, ‘Hey, when this guy was healthy, when he was playing, what did he do?’ I think that’s really the only criteria is just evaluating somebody for the work that they’ve done and not something they thought, ‘Was it long enough?’ Well, I think seven, eight years is a pretty long time to play in the National Football League.”

Davis mentioned receiver Sterling Sharpe as a player whom selectors have overlooked because of Sharpe’s short career. Sharpe played seven seasons but had five 1,000-yard seasons. He led the NFL in catches three times, in yards once and in touchdowns twice.

“Certainly, Sterling Sharpe’s name should be mentioned with the Hall of Fame, and a lot of people believe before Sterling got hurt — if he didn’t get hurt, this man would have been probably one of the greatest wide receivers to have played the game, and I agree with that,” Davis said. “I’m always going to root for the guys whose careers are probably taking a knock because they didn’t play long enough, because I know how that feels. But I think things are changing, and I think mentality and the attitude toward the longevity is starting to shift a little bit and I’m happy to see that.”

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O.J. Simpson granted parole

AP

O.J. Simpson will be a free man. Eventually.

The Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners has decided, roughly 30 minutes after the conclusion of a 75-minute hearing, that the Hall of Fame running back should go free after serving nine years in prison.

The decision came despite the best efforts of Simpson to sabotage his case with rambling comments that failed to reflect true contrition. But Simpson was, by all appearances, a model prisoner. And so with nine years served, Simpson will be released.

It was made clear to Simpson that his parole will come with conditions, and that any violation will result in his re-incarceration. For now, though, he’s on track to be freed, at the age of 70.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 11: Miami Dolphins

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Five weeks into the 2016 season, it looked like the change to Adam Gase at head coach wouldn’t do anything to change the franchise’s fortunes.

They were 1-4 and a competent kicking performance from the Browns in Week Three would have had the Dolphins looking up at the rest of the league with an 0-5 record. The offense was floundering, the defense wasn’t stout enough and there was little joy in South Florida.

The next 11 weeks went a lot better. Jay Ajayi, who was left at home in Week One in a coach’s decision, ran for 204 yards and the defense stifled the Steelers in a 30-15 win that touched off a 9-1 run that lifted the Dolphins into the postseason for the first time since 2008. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury helped ensure the Dolphins’ stay in the playoffs was a short one, but the final result of the year was unquestionably positive.

Tannehill is healthy again, the other key offensive pieces remain in place and there’s reason to believe the defense will be better, all of which adds up to optimism about the direction the Dolphins are headed.

Biggest positive change: The Dolphins were outscored by 17 points overall last season, which didn’t stop coordinator Vance Joseph from landing a head coaching job but made it little surprise that defense was a primary focus this offseason.

They used five of their seven picks on defenders and picked up linebacker Lawrence Timmons, defensive end William Hayes, safety Nate Allen and safety T.J. McDonald as veteran additions. They also get safety Reshad Jones back after last year’s season-ending rotator cuff injury, so there’s reason to hope the results will be better under new coordinator Matt Burke.

Biggest negative change: There’s no one transaction or development to point to as the Dolphins held onto Jones and wide receiver Kenny Stills while left tackle Branden Albert was traded to make room for Laremy Tunsil. That leaves us with the biggest potential negative change and it could be the turn of the calendar.

The Dolphins went 8-2 in one-score games last season and the wins that followed the Week Six win over the Steelers came against many of the weaker teams that the league had to offer in 2016. Teams like the Raiders, Falcons and Chiefs are on this year’s schedule after the Rams and 49ers appeared on last year’s slate, which may set the stage for a regression even if the execution isn’t markedly different.

Coaching thermometer: As cool as a seat can get in the Miami summer. Not only did Gase take the team from 6-10 to 10-6 and into the playoffs, he also saw several moves pay off in a major way. Benching Ajayi at the start of the season looked smart while he was running for 1,272 yards in the next 15 games and his strong show of faith in Tannehill was rewarded with the quarterback’s best season.

Even missteps like shuffling Cameron Wake to a situational role wound up with a positive as Gase was able to admit he was wrong and change directions. That flexibility is important and one of many signs that the Dolphins found the right guy in Gase.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Jarvis Landry. Landry made the boldest statement of the Dolphins offseason when he said they’ll beat the Patriots twice in 2017. We’d like to follow up on that and hear about his desire for a new contract after catching 288 passes in his first three seasons.

How they can prove us wrong: Landry is probably going to have to be right about the results of those games with the Patriots for this ranking to be ridiculously low come the end of the year.

It could look too high if Center Mike Pouncey’s ongoing hip issues lead to more missed time and more shuffling on an offensive line that hasn’t been good enough, Ajayi can’t find the heights of his three games of more than 200 rushing yards and the defensive changes don’t lead to better results with cornerback looming as a potential trouble spot again this year.

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Trai Turner’s deal is for four years, $45 million

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The contract extension announced by Panthers right guard Trai Turner today will pay him $45 million over the next four years.

A league source tells PFT the $11.25 million a year contract includes $20.5 million guaranteed. Turner will receive a $15 million signing bonus.

The 24-year-old Turner is now scheduled to hit free agency after the 2020 season, when he’ll be 28 years old. Turner has started all 16 games and been chosen to the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. If he keeps playing that way, he’ll be due for another big contract within four years.

Turner is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, who also represents Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who may be next to work out a new deal with the team.

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Cowboys bring back Justin Durant

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Former Cardinal Daryl Washington has spent some time lobbying for a job with the Cowboys since being reinstated from suspension and released by Arizona, but the team has opted to go in a different direction at linebacker.

The team has brought back veteran Justin Durant. Cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon has been dropped from the 90-man roster in a corresponding move.

Durant spent three of the last four years with the Cowboys — he played for the Falcons in 2015 — and appeared in 13 games as a reserve for Dallas last season. He had 37 tackles and a sack in those appearances.

The Cowboys may have to play without Damien Wilson for some part of the upcoming season if he’s suspended as a result of his recent arrest and, despite optimism from the team, it remains to be seen how much Jaylon Smith will be able to offer after missing his entire rookie season with a serious knee injury and resulting nerve problems. Durant’s signing gives them an insurance option with experience in their defense should they need to look elsewhere.

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Unexpected Chiefs tie becomes most amazing aspect of O.J. Simpson parole hearing

Many stunning things happened during the O.J. Simpson parole hearing. But the most stunning thing happened this morning, when one of the members of the parole board decided to wear his Kansas City Chiefs tie to the proceedings.

Yes, for whatever reason, a grown man with a job that carries real significance and responsibility opted to wear a novelty necktie with the colors and logos of a football team.

Maybe he’s lashing out at the looming arrival of the Raiders in Nevada. Maybe he wanted to make a roundabout reference to Marcus Allen. Maybe the guy is just a really big Chiefs fan.

Regardless, it was definitely unusual. Unusual enough that the Chiefs are trending on Twitter, and striking enough to get the Chiefs official Twitter account to chime in.

Meanwhile, a decision on O.J.’s parole could come any minute now. If he gets out, he’ll probably buy a Chiefs tie.

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Trai Turner announces an extension with Panthers

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Panthers interim General Manager Marty Hurney said at a Wednesday press conference that he would be making decisions with both short- and long-term impact on the franchise.

He didn’t waste much time proving it. Right guard Trai Turner took to Twitter on Thursday to announce that he has signed a four-year extension with the team. Turner did not provide any of the other terms of the deal.

Turner was a 2014 third-round pick and was headed into the final year of his rookie pact with the team. Turner started the final six regular season games of his rookie season and both of the team’s playoff games before going on to start every game the team has played over the last two seasons.

Left guard Andrew Norwell is also entering the final year of his deal in Carolina while linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen both shared their desire for new deals before Dave Gettleman was relieved of G.M. duties early this week.

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O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing doesn’t seem to be going well

AP

I don’t know much about parole hearings and I don’t know anything about the rules that apply for granting or denying parole in Nevada. But the O.J. Simpson parole hearing doesn’t seem to be going well.

Simpson rambled throughout the first 30 minutes of the hearing, quibbling over details and generally creating the impression that he still doesn’t fully accept responsibility for the things he was convicted of doing. It’s a far cry from the sullen and somber “yes” and “no” demeanor that would be ideal for convincing the members of the parole board to set him free.

At one point, for example, Simpson spent time trying to explain that the California courts have determined that the property he was convicted of trying to retrieve through illegal means was indeed his property.

He either has had no competent preparation for his remarks, or he has ignored the advice he has received. While this doesn’t mean he won’t get out, this process doesn’t seem to be going as smoothly as it would to create the general impression that he has said what he needs to say in order to secure his freedom.

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Teams can now be disciplined for uniform violations

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When it comes to the periodic issue of players committing uniform violations, the NFL previously has punished only the players. Starting this year, that could change.

The 2017 NFL rule book has added three words (“and the club”) that now permit the Commissioner to impose discipline on both the player and the team for uniform violations, beyond any in-game penalties that could be called.

And that’s significant. All too often, it’s obvious that the team’s equipment staff had a role, directly or indirectly, in facilitating or allowing the violation to occur. With no potential punishment for the team, however, there was no reason for the team to refuse to participate.

Now, there is. And now it’s safe to say that teams will be taking affirmative steps to keep players from wearing non-conforming shoes or other non-conforming gear in order to avoid being required to make an involuntary contribution to the charity of the NFL’s choice.

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Doug Pederson not ready to give up offensive play calling

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Before Doug Pederson became the head coach of the Eagles, he spent many years as an assistant under Andy Reid and got an up-close look at a head coach who also handled offensive play calling.

Given that, it wasn’t a great surprise that Pederson chose to handle things the same way during his first season in Philadelphia or that he’s planning to keep things working the same way in Year Two. Pederson admitted that there were times in 2016 when he was too focused on offense, but says he learned from that experience and wants to hold onto the extra duty.

“I can tell you this, after going through a year of calling a full season, it’s hard to give that up,” Pederson said, via CSNPhilly.com. “Personally, selfishly, it’s hard to give that up. It’s fun. It’s fun and you’re in control of the game. Being a quarterback and former quarterback, you’re kind of in charge. You are. You’re calling the plays, you’re touching the ball every time. You’re a part of the game, part of the fabric of the game. It’s just hard to give that up.”

Pederson added that he will be delegating more things to offensive coordinator Frank Reich “as far as the planning” so that he can do more to manage the big picture for an Eagles team trying to improve on last year’s 7-9 record.

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Devonta Freeman contract situation lingers

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All signs have been pointing to a long-term contract for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. But with no deal happening, maybe it’s time to re-read the signs.

Maybe Freeman, who is a year away from the open market or the franchise tag (which currently outpaces market value), has decided to roll the dice. Maybe he’s willing to go year to year, like other star players facing the tag may be doing.

Whatever the case, if it were an easy negotiation it would be done by now.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests that the team “own[s] most of the chips.” We disagree (as, apparently, does Luther Campbell, the husband of Freeman’s agent).

Freeman has leverage, because he’s one year from finishing his rookie deal Sure, he’ll make only $1.8 million in 2017 without an extension. After that, though, the Falcons face a dilemma — let him become a free agent or use the tag, which was $12.1 million this year for running backs and surely will be higher next year.

The question becomes what it will take to get Freeman to trade in his 2017 pay plus the chance to hit the market or make at least $12.1 million in 2018. Whatever the Falcons have been offering, it’s apparently not enough to get him to give up the power that he has over the situation.

In the end, what Freeman wants may be enough to get the Falcons to regret offering such cheap food at their new stadium.

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