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Return of Peyton Manning brings huge TV ratings to NBC

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Last year, Tim Tebow made the Denver Broncos a big television draw. This year, Peyton Manning has made the Broncos an even bigger draw.

NBC announced this morning that the Broncos’ victory over the Steelers on Sunday night, in Manning’s first game back after a year off, yielded an overnight rating of 18.0, which is the highest rating for any prime time regular-season game ever on NBC. The previous best was a 17.7 rating for the 2010 kickoff game, which was an NFC Championship Game rematch between the Super Bowl champion Saints and Brett Favre’s Vikings.

The Steelers-Broncos rating is up 8 percent from last year’s first Sunday Night Football game, the Cowboys at the Jets. That game drew a 16.9 rating.

The huge TV ratings are evidence of Manning’s stardom, but also another reminder of the incredible popularity of the NFL. In a 500-channel world where TV ratings are in decline for basically everything, the NFL seems immune to that decline. The record ratings numbers just keep coming.

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Adam Gase doesn’t need to see Mike Pouncey in preseason

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The Dolphins haven’t made a call about whether center Mike Pouncey will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list or how he might be limited in practices as a result of a left hip injury, but coach Adam Gase said they will have a better idea once Pouncey goes for a check with doctors.

During a Tuesday press conference, Gase said there were “a whole bunch of different scenarios” based on what doctors say later in the day but that Pouncey has been able to run and has shown progress over where he’s been earlier in the process. Gase said that Pouncey is an “elite player” and not one that he needs to see anything from in the coming weeks in order to feel good about putting Pouncey in the lineup for the start of the regular season.

“Nothing, but that’s me,” Gase said. “I know he doesn’t feel that way. I know he wants to practice and go through his routine for training camp.”

Pouncey has not played in all 16 games during the regular season since 2012, so there may not be a perfect way of handling things to ensure that he’ll be healthy for the long run. Given how important Pouncey is to the offensive line, they’ll likely settle for the path that gets him as close to 100 percent of their snaps as possible.

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Matthew Slater: Patriots don’t talk about a 19-0 season

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The Patriots have had such a good offseason following their Super Bowl LI victory that talk is already surfacing about New England going 19-0.

But that talk is not coming from the Patriots’ locker room.

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater says he and his teammates laugh when reporters or fans broach the idea that they could win every game from Week One through Super Bowl LII.

“When it comes to a perfect season, when you hear something like that, I guess all you can do is chuckle,” Slater told Bostonsportsjournal.com. “I mean, it’s just so hard to even go out and just being competitive in this league. It’s so difficult. Any talk of us doing something like that, it’s not something I’d align myself with or something our team would think or talk about. Right now, we’re just thinking about going out there and stringing some good practices together. It’s tough — I would say it’s something we don’t really talk about or focus any of our energy on, because we understand that at this time of the year, it’s about getting prepared to play. We’re a long way away from even competing in a game.”

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman made similar comments, calling talk of the Patriots going 19-0 “stupid.” But that talk will probably continue until the Patriots lose a game.

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Police: Lucky Whitehead’s identity was “falsely provided” during arrest

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Police in Prince William County, Virginia recently arrested a man named Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr. The only problem is that it wasn’t the Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr. who used to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

In a lengthy statement, the authorities have admitted that Lucky Whitehead’s identity was “falsely provided” after an arrest for petit larceny. Amazingly, the man didn’t have a fake ID (or any ID at all); however, the man “verbally provide[d] identifying information to officers, which included a name, date of birth, and social security number matching that of Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr.”

To be sure, police compared the man to the photo on file with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. And they concluded that it was a match.

“Officers acted in good faith that, at the time, the man in custody was the same man matching the information provided,” the statement reads.

It’s impossible for any of us to compare the photo of the man to a photo of Lucky Whitehead because, apparently, no mug shot was taken. Which could make it even harder for the authorities to catch the real criminal.

As to Whitehead, the case still isn’t officially closed. “[T]he police department is working with the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to clear Mr. Whitehead from this investigation,” the statement explains.

Hopefully, it’ll become official ASAP.

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Statement from police exonerating Lucky Whitehead

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[Editor’s note: The Prince William County, Virginia police have issued a statement regarding former Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead. The full statement appears below.]

“Upon reviewing the June 22, 2017 arrest of an individual named ‘Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr.’, the police department is confident that the man charged with petit larceny, and who is subsequently being sought on an active warrant for failure to appear in court, is not Lucky Whitehead of the Dallas Cowboys. The man charged on the morning of June 22 was not in possession of identification at the time of the encounter; however, did verbally provide identifying information to officers, which included a name, date of birth, and social security number matching that of Rodney Darnell Whitehead, Jr.

“Officers then checked this information through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) database. The DMV photo on file was then used to compare to the man who was in custody. Officers acted in good faith that, at the time, the man in custody was the same man matching the information provided. At this point, the police department is also confident in confirming that Mr. Whitehead’s identity was falsely provided to police during the investigation. The police department is currently seeking the identity of the man involved in the incident. Since the identifying information provided by the arrestee during the investigation was apparently false, the police department is working with the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to clear Mr. Whitehead from this investigation. The police department regrets the impact these events had on Mr. Whitehead and his family.”

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Agent: All charges dropped against Lucky Whitehead

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The Cowboys finally held someone (hard gulp) accountable. Even if there was no reason to.

Agent Dave Rich tells PFT that all charges have been dropped against former Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead, and that the warrant has been rescinded.

It’s still not clear how it all happened. Possibly, someone in Whitehead’s home county in Virginia decided to give the authorities Whitehead’s name when arrested for shoplifting. PFT has attempted to obtain more information regarding whether a mug shot or other identifying factors were obtained, but the call has not been returned by the powers-that-be in Prince William County.

However the situation happened, Whitehead has suffered the consequences. “They cost this guy his job,” Rich told PFT.

The good news is that the truth is coming out while Whitehead remains eligible to be claimed on waivers. Now that he has been cleared, maybe someone will.

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Report: Broncos hiring Gary Kubiak in scouting role

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Gary Kubiak stepped down as the head coach of the Broncos at the end of the 2016 season, but he’s reportedly back in the organization.

Mike Klis of KUSA reports that the Broncos are hiring Kubiak as a senior personnel executive. Kubiak’s role will be a scouting one.

Kubiak experienced health problems while coaching the Broncos last year and missed a game after being taken to the hospital with what was called a complex migraine. He also suffered a mini-stroke when he was the Texans coach in 2013 and avoiding further issues caused by the stress of coaching led to his decision to step down.

He’ll be based in Houston and work on evaluating college players for the draft, which likely means he’ll be interacting with his son and Broncos southwest area scout Klein. Another of his sons, Klint, is an offensive assistant on Vance Joseph’s staff.

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Mike McCarthy trying to keep the BS away from him

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Packers coach Mike McCarthy isn’t exactly the most talkative coach in the NFL.

But his latest efforts to avoid BS are taking a different turn.

According to Doug Schneider of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, McCarthy and his neighbors are trying to prevent a dairy farm from building a manure-storage facility near their subdivision.

As you might imagine, McCarthy lives in a nice neighborhood, full of houses valued from $440,000 to more than $600,000. In rural Brown County, Wisconsin, that’s a high-end neighborhood. But being in rural Brown County, Wisconsin, there are also a lot of cows, who produce something brown of their own that has to go somewhere.

So a nearby dairy farm owned by a gentleman named Jake Pansier wants to be able to store millions of gallons of manure and manure by-products (Hey everybody, what’s for lunch?).

Naturally the neighbors aren’t wild about it, with concerns ranging from water quality, the safety of children (won’t somebody think of them?) and property values.

It’s a complicated story of zoning and farm regulations, but not everybody sees it that way.

“I don’t think this is an agricultural-residential issue,” McCarthy said. “I’m not sure Mr. Pansier is acting in the best interest of being a good neighbor.”

Of course, this story is clearly very serious and has environmental and legal implications which will be felt (and smelt, even by those who have not dealt) in the neighborhood for years to come.

But it’s also about the coach of the Packers and a giant pile of cow poop. You’re welcome.

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Urban Meyer: Greg Schiano was offered two “significant” head-coaching jobs

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The former head coach at Rutgers in the NCAA and Tampa Bay in the NFL seems destined to become a head coach again.

Via ElevenWarriors.com, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Monday that defensive coordinator Greg Schiano turned down a pair of “significant” head-coaching jobs earlier this year. Meyer didn’t specify the jobs, including whether they were at the college or pro level.

Although Schiano’s name bubbled up a time or two in the weeks preceding the annual coaching carousel, he never publicly was identified as a candidate for any NFL jobs.

“He will be a head coach [again],” Meyer said. “I’m going to keep him as long as I can. He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around.”

Schiano apparently stayed put because he has twin sons who will be seniors in high school. Come 2018, he’ll be able to relocate more easily.

Schiano spent two years with the Buccaneers, generating a record of 11-21.

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Bills sign Bacarri Rambo, Sam Barrington

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The Bills met with veteran free agents on both sides of the ball on Monday, but none of the players who were in the building were among the three players they signed on Tuesday.

The Bills announced that they have signed safety Bacarri Rambo, linebacker Sam Barrington and offensive lineman Karim Barton. They released center Patrick Lewis and linebacker Anthony Harrell in corresponding moves.

It’s Rambo 2 for the Bills as the safety spent part of 2014 and all of 2015 with the team. He appeared in 19 games and made eight starts before moving on to the Dolphins for the 2016 season.

Barrington split last season between the Saints and Chiefs, appearing in seven games and making two tackles overall. Barton has bounced around the league since signing with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2014, but has never played in a regular season game.

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin and three defensive linemen were on the list of Monday visitors, so the Bills may not be done tweaking their roster yet.

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Kenneth Dixon having knee surgery, Ravens signing Bobby Rainey

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The Ravens knew they weren’t going to have running back Kenneth Dixon for the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension for a PED policy violation, but that won’t be the reason why he isn’t on the field for practices at training camp.

According to multiple reports, Dixon suffered a torn meniscus in his knee while training ahead of camp and will be having surgery to repair the injury on Tuesday. Dixon, who also dealt with knee issues last season, is expected to miss 6-8 weeks while recovering from the operation.

With Dixon out of action, those same reports have the Ravens signing Bobby Rainey to flesh out their running back corps. Rainey signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but never saw regular season action with the team. He has played for the Browns, Buccaneers and Giants and has 266 carries for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns over the course of his career.

Terrance West and Danny Woodhead are considered sure things for the 53-man roster with Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro (who is seeing time at fullback as well) also in the mix.

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Greg Olsen says he doesn’t want to be a distraction

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Greg Olsen wanted a raise. But with two years left on his contract and the potential of $40,000-a-day fines, he didn’t exactly have the kind of leverage to convince the Panthers to give him one.

So when the Pro Bowl tight end reported to camp Tuesday (#asexpected) he did his very best to calm the waters he stirred this summer.

Via Bill Voth of the team’s official website, Olsen said: “I didn’t feel like it was right to add fuel to the fire and be a distraction.”

Ignoring the fact he lit the fire himself in June, and was willing to stoke it along the way, Olsen did the only thing he could do.

While the threat to withhold services is the only real leverage players under contract have, he apparently wasn’t willing to exercise it, even though he may be underpaid relative to other tight ends considering his recent production.

So now, the Panthers get to have a peaceful reporting day. At least until they fire somebody else, though they’re running a little short on bodies at the moment.

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Duane Brown prepares to hold out

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Good news, Texans fans: Receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be showing up for training camp. Bad news, Texans fans: Tackle Duane Brown apparently won’t be.

Per a league source, Brown is planning to boycott training camp when it opens later this week in West Virginia.

Brown already has skipped the full offseason program, including a mandatory minicamp that exposed him to roughly $80,000 in fines. Ditching training camp comes with a potential cost of $40,000 per day.

The 31-year-old left tackle has two years left on his contract, at non-guaranteed salaries of $9.4 million and $9.75 million, respectively. He received a $12.5 million signing bonus in 2012, along with total salaries of more than $23 million in the five seasons since then.

So he can easily afford to pay the fines, and (if it comes to it) to skip game checks. The question is whether withholding services will result in the Texans ripping up the last two years of the deal and giving Brown a raise.

And before anyone climbs on to the “honor thy contract” soapbox, don’t forget that these contracts are one-way streets. Teams can rip up the deal at any time without consequence, but players can’t. Players can, however, choose to not perform within the confines of the rules that apply to refusing to work while under contract.

If Brown is willing to pay the fines, he has every right to dig in and hold out.

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Dak Prescott aims to get the ball downfield more

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For Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, a sophomore slump could happen not because of anything he does, but because of what opposing defenses do in an effort to stop him. With the benefit of seven months to study film of his 2016 performances, defenses will try to take away the things Prescott does well, and to force him to do things he doesn’t like to do.

As it specifically relates to Prescott, that could mean forcing him to throw the ball down the field more frequently. In a recent (relatively speaking) interview with PFT Live, Prescott said that the team will indeed be trying to get more balls in the air vertically.

“It’s definitely important for us to attack downfield and show that we’ve got that threat,” Prescott said. “That’s something that we want to do is go down the field and make the defenses respect that, make sure they’re deep and they’re being honest in their coverage so we can have everything underneath. It’s about having that balance. Not only in the deep and the short and the intermediate pass game, but as in the run [game] as well. To me, it’s important just to kind of look back at last year and to see what I struggled against and then kind of to think that may be what the defenses are going to do this year. It’s been important for me this offseason to get better at those things, to be ready for next year in case that is what it is.”

That’s likely what it will be. A year ago, teams had no NFL film on Prescott. Now, they have plenty. And they’ve surely broken it down every way possible in order to figure out how Prescott can be confused and confounded.

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Dolphins working out cornerbacks before camp starts

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The Dolphins want to kick the tires on some cornerbacks before training camp starts this weekend.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Dolphins are taking a look at former Bucs corner Alterraun Verner and former Broncos cornerbacck Tony Carter today.

The Bucs parted ways with Verner early this offseason, admitting an expensive free agent mistake.

The Dolphins didn’t add any significant pieces at the position this offseason beyond third-rounder Coredrea Tankersley.

Both players have experience in the slot, and they could be gauging their depth at the position Bobby McCain has held.

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Malik Hooker to open Colts camp on PUP list

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A day ago, Colts General Manager Chris Ballard said he expected rookie safety Malik Hooker to be ready for the start of training camp after offseason hernia surgery.

Apparently, he’s not.

The Colts just announced that the first-round pick would start camp on the physically unable to perform list, along with quarterback Andrew Luck and safety Clayton Geathers.

Hooker was coming off hip surgeries and sports hernia procedures on both sides, forcing him to urge doctors to be careful with him back at the Scouting Combine. But the team said this was related to a hamstring problem which surfaced during conditioning tests, and not related to the previous surgeries, according to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.

If he’s healthy, they think he can have an immediate impact for a defense which could use such players. He picked off seven passes at Ohio State last year, and returned three of them for touchdowns.

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