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Week Eight power rankings

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Ryan throws a forward pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter of their NFL football game in Philadelphia Reuters

[Editor’s note:  With eight weeks in the books and plenty of talk about midseason MVP, we decided it made sense to devote this weeks’ power rankings to the identification of each team’s MVP to date.  Also, while the addition of Curtis Crabtree has expanded the pool of voters to six, Josh Alper lives in New York and had no power when it was time to tabulate votes.]

1. Falcons (five first-place votes):  Matt Ryan, because he’s the straw that stirs the drink.

2. Giants:  Eli Manning, even though in the first three quarters of some games he could drive a fan to drink.

3. Texans:  J.J. Watt, because he makes quarterbacks feel like they’ve been drinking.

4. Bears:  Jay Cutler, because he’s got the Superfans saying “Da Bears” again before taking a drink.

5. 49ers:  Frank Gore, because without him the offense would sputter.

6. Packers:  Aaron Rodgers, because without him playing well the offense does.

7. Patriots:  Tom Brady, because he’s still Tom Brady.

8. Broncos:  Peyton Manning, because he’s Peyton Manning once again.

9. Ravens:  Ray Rice, because if they don’t use him they are ordinary.

10. Steelers:  Troy Polamalu, because without him they are ordinary.

11. Colts:  Andrew Luck, because he has been the best quarterback since the team’s last franchise quarterback.

12. Dolphins:  Ryan Tannehill, because he has been the best quarterback since the team’s last franchise quarterback.

13. Vikings:  Adrian Peterson, because he has overcome a torn ACL to become better than ever.

14. Seahawks:  Russell Wilson, because he has overcome a corps of receivers who can’t catch to lead the team to a .500 record.

15. Buccaneers:  Josh Freeman, because he’s making the 2009 quarterback class look much better.

16. Lions:  Matthew Stafford, even though he currently isn’t.

17. Redskins:  Robert Griffin III, because he’s the real deal for a team that has been dealt a bad hand for a long time.

18. Bengals:  A.J. Green, because he’s already one of the best receivers in the NFL.

19. Cardinals:  Darryl Washington, because he’s one of the most underrated linebackers in the league.

20. Rams:  Cortland Finnegan, because he’s one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the league.

21. Eagles:  LeSean McCoy, because they’d be a lot better if they’d use him more.

22. Saints:  Drew Brees, because they’d be a lot worse without him.

23. Cowboys:  Sean Lee, because we’ll see how bad they can be without him.

24. Chargers:  Philip Rivers, even though he’s not the guy he used to be.

25. Raiders:  Carson Palmer, even though he’s not the guy he used to be.

26. Jets:  Mark Sanchez, even though he’ll never be the guy the Jets need him to be.

27. Browns:  Trent Richardson, because he could be the best tailback the Browns have had since Jim Brown.

28. Titans:  Matthew Hasselbeck, because he has shown that he can still help a team win.

29. Bills:  C.J. Spiller, because he’s the best running back who doesn’t get enough attention.

30. Panthers:  Steve Smith, because without his energy this team would be blown out of every game.

31. Jaguars:  Blaine Gabbert, because even though the team has gotten worse he has gotten better.

32. Chiefs:  Jamaal Charles, because without his effort against the Saints this team would be winless.

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Geep Chryst: Kaepernick didn’t regress as much as perceived

Colin Kaepernick, Kendall Hunter AP

The 49ers failed to advance to the playoffs last season, ending a three-year string of making it at least as far as the NFC title game and touching off an offseason of sweeping change.

One thing that didn’t change was the identity of the starting quarterback. Colin Kaepernick will run the offense again this season after a 2014 season that left many people feeling like he’d regressed in his third year at the helm. His offensive coordinator Geep Chryst isn’t one of those people. He cited other factors for creating a perception that Kaepernick was moving in the wrong direction.

“And then last year, you’re playing with some different sets of challenges,” Chryst said, via the San Jose Mercury News. “There was more change within the offensive line than he had experienced the last couple of years. How does that affect your production as a quarterback? You’re behind more often in games. How does that affect your production as a quarterback? I cite the fact that we had six touchdowns nullified by penalty. You plug that back into his formula, he really wasn’t … he didn’t regress off his line as much as perceived.”

Chryst continued to point in other directions for the team’s offensive struggles last season by saying he could provide examples of Kaepernick being at “a disadvantage because his team wasn’t playing as well as it was around him in other games.” Chryst added that part of the challenge for quarterbacks is succeeding in spite of those obstacles and Kaepernick may have more opportunities to overcome them this year.

The 49ers have lost two starting offensive linemen, running back Frank Gore and several key defensive pieces, leaving Kaepernick with a team that is going to need him to avoid any regression if the offense is going to move back in the right direction.

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Stephen A. Smith “hears” (doesn’t know) Tom Brady destroyed his phone

AFC Champion New England Patriots Team Media Availability AP

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith craves attention, so I always hesitate before writing about his outlandish claims. I hesitated before I wrote that Smith hinted Chip Kelly was racist, and I hesitated before writing about Smith’s comments on today’s episode of ESPN First Take.

But ignoring Smith won’t make him go away, so let’s just deal head on with it. Smith claimed today that he has a source telling him that the NFL is likely to uphold Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, and that Brady destroyed his cell phone to hide text messages to the Patriots’ ball boys.

“I’m hearing that Tom Brady actually destroyed his cell phone,” Smith said on the air.

Smith later clarified that he was just “hearing” that Brady destroyed his phone, and can’t confirm that for certain.

“I don’t know,” Smith added.

Regarding the first part of Smith’s report, that the NFL is “likely” to uphold Brady’s suspension, that comes across as little more than a guess. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell either will or won’t uphold Brady’s suspension, and claiming that he’s “likely” to go either way at this point doesn’t mean much. It especially doesn’t mean much coming from someone like Smith, who has no history of scoops coming out of the league office. If ESPN’s respected veteran NFL reporters say they’re “hearing” what Goodell is “likely” to do, we can reasonably surmise that they’re “hearing” it from well-placed sources within the league office. Even if such a report turned out to be wrong, if it came from a respected reporter it was probably based on contact with sources who are in a position to know what they’re talking about. When it comes from Smith, it doesn’t mean anything.

The part about Brady destroying his cell phone — the part that Smith acknowledges he doesn’t “know” — just sounds silly. Brady has already refused to hand over his phone to the Ted Wells investigation. It’s not like Wells has the power to send the cops into Brady’s house to execute a search warrant and seize his phone. Why would Brady need to destroy it? And even if Brady did destroy his physical phone, that wouldn’t make the records of any texts or calls to the Patriots’ ball boys disappear. The “report” doesn’t make a lot of sense, and if the “reporter” “hears” something like that, he needs to express more skepticism and ask his “source” to clarify where this “information” is coming from.

But that’s not how Smith operates. If he “hears” something that will get us all talking, he’ll repeat it on the air. And now we’re talking about Stephen A. Smith. Mission accomplished.

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35 days later, no Tom Brady ruling

Goodell Getty Images

As the Greg Hardy appeal lingered without resolution, many assumed the same thing wouldn’t happen in the Tom Brady case, given it’s much higher profile

A full five weeks since the hearing, there’s still no ruling on the question of whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will uphold, modify, or scuttle the four-game suspension he previously approved.

Last week, Goodell insisted that there’s no “timeline” for a decision. Technically correct because there’s no specific date by which a ruling is required, the Collective Bargaining Agreement nevertheless requires a ruling “as soon as practicable,” fancy lawyer talk for “as soon as possible.”

It was possible for the league to digest the convoluted 243-page report from Ted Wells and issue a four-game suspension to Brady in only five days. Why would it take seven times that amount for Goodell to review work he already has approved?

Some believe the delay is aimed at squeezing Brady into a settlement that perhaps would entail a shorter suspension. Some believe the delay is intended to keep Brady and the NFLPA from having enough time to challenge the case in court. Some believe the delay results from the fact that Goodell and the league office simply don’t know what to do.

Despite the absence of a specific timeline in the CBA, Goodell surely will issue a ruling by Labor Day, given that the Patriots are due to host the Steelers three days later in the regular-season opener. It would only be fair to issue a ruling before camp opens, so that the Patriots can properly divvy up reps in advance of Week One.

Regardless, this shouldn’t have taken 35 days and counting for a ruling to emerge. Whatever the other reason(s) for the delay, it’s becoming more and more clear that this exercise is about more than simply trying to engage in a second look at a decision to which Goodell previously gave the green light.

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Mike Wallace: I have to be a better person, player and leader

Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Wallace AP

Mike Wallace’s two years with the Dolphins were a disappointment in terms of on-field production, the team’s place in the standings and the way Wallace fit in with the rest of the team.

Wallace is now with the Vikings after an offseason trade and the wide receiver says he didn’t do a good job of holding in his frustration at not meeting his or the team’s goals during his time in Miami. Wallace said he’s learned from that experience and vows to be better across the board in 2015 as a result.

“[I’m trying] my best to be a leader this year and do a much better job in that department than I have been before,” Wallace said, via the Pioneer Press. “[I’ve got] to be a better person and a better player and lead more. You take experiences that you have in your life and just learn from them. Some are good and some are bad, but you have to build from it. I know some mistakes I made in Miami. I know some good things. So I try to leave the bad and take the good.”

The Vikings are obviously looking for Wallace to be the leader of their wide receiver group, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner believes that “what guys say is very meaningless” and that proof will come from Wallace’s actions in practice and his production in games. If he’s strong in both areas, the Vikings offense should be a much more effective unit this year.

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Report: Dolphins bring Josh Freeman back days after cutting him

Josh Freeman AP

Former first-round quarterback Josh Freeman might not have shown much in recent years, but he keeps getting chances.

Including from the team which just cut him last week.

According to Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, the Dolphins have re-signed Josh Freeman.

They cut him last week, apparently ending his comeback attempt there. But the Dolphins only had three quarterbacks after the move, and teams generally want four passers in camp with rosters at 90.

It’s unclear why the Dolphins did an about face, or why they cut him the first time, but the coming days should provide more of an answer.

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Harrison Smith isn’t a fan of the fifth-year option

Smith Getty Images

in 2015, Vikings safety Harrison Smith enters the fourth year of his contract. If the 29th pick in 2012 had been selected four spots lower, it would be the final year of his contract.

Thanks to the fifth-year option, it’s not.

I’m obviously not a fan of the fifth-year option,” Smith said Monday, via Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Agents and teams know a lot more than I do, but it does kind of seem like a weird deal for the first-rounders. I just think that part of the CBA was poorly done.”

Guys taken at the bottom of round one definitely should feel that way. Which always makes it better to be the first guy taken in round two than the last guy taken in round one.

Of course, the Vikings could sign Smith to a new deal at any time. For now, it looks like they won’t be.

“Nothing is going on,” Smith said. “As far as what my agents have told me and what I’ve talked to [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] about is we’re going to hold off on those and focus on playing good football and go from there.”

With two years left on his contract, the Vikings may not be comfortable shifting the injury risk from Smith to the team until he gets through his fourth NFL season healthy enough to cash in. From the team’s perspective, that makes sense. From the player’s perspective, that fifth-year option could be keeping him from getting paid now.

And that’s the biggest problem with the fifth-year option. By keeping the player from the market for an extra year, it necessarily keeps the team from feeling a sense of urgency to get him signed to an extension.

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Prince Amukamara claims Victor Cruz is faster than ever

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Getty Images

Giants receiver Victor Cruz is only nine months removed from a severe knee injury, but he looks better than ever.

That’s the word from Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara, who worked out with Cruz and believes he’s faster now than he was before he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in October.

“I trained with Cruz for one day down in Arizona ‐ and he just came in for a day because he was in town ‐ and I’m telling you, this guy looked fab . . . I’m telling you. Remember that I said this. This guy looks faster now than he did before,” Amukamara said on his podcast, via NJ.com. “I was just looking at him and was like, ‘Man, how is this possible?'”

Honestly, it’s probably not possible. And Amukamara acknowledged that he might just be feeling a little optimistic.

“It could be [he’s faster] or it could be I haven’t seen him run in a long time and he just looks crisp,” Amukamara said. “But I keep telling him. ‘Man, you look faster. You look faster’ and stuff like that. He looks so good, so polished. He does not look like he missed a step.”

Still, Amukamara’s comments come three weeks after Cruz himself said all the medical personnel are telling him he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Considering how ugly that knee injury in October looked, the fact that he’s running at all in July is impressive. If he’s running as well as he did before the injury, that’s incredible.

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Grubman returns to San Diego for more meetings

Grubman Getty Images

As San Diego tries to keep the Chargers and as the Chargers try to leave, NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman is returning for another set of meetings.

Via Scott M. Reid of the Orange County Register, Grubman will meet separately with the city and the team, who have had overtly conflicting agendas for the last month.

San Diego hopes to finagle a public vote in January on partial public funding, but that requires an accelerated Environmental Impact Report. Via Reid, the EIR must be done by next week in order to keep the plan on track.

The Chargers will separately update Grubman on the efforts to build a new stadium in Carson, which the Chargers would share with the Raiders. Last month, the Chargers walked away from direct talks with San Diego due to disagreements regarding the viability of an accelerated EIR and public vote.

Grubman will visit L.A. and Oakland, too, as he makes one last attempt to gather information prior to an August 11 ownership meeting aimed solely at tackling the situation in L.A., a market that quickly has gone from luxury to necessity for the NFL.

Apart from whether a new stadium is built in Carson (for the Chargers and Raiders) or Inglewood (for the Rams and likely one other team), the league needs to have a viable temporary location for one or two franchises. With the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Angels Stadium in Anaheim reportedly not interested, that leaves few options for a 2-3 year Band-Aid, which could make finding short-term space a bigger challenge for the league than building a permanent NFL venue.

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Dave Gettleman: Cam Newton “developing at a solid rate”

Cam Newton AP

When the Panthers signed quarterback Cam Newton to a contract extension this offseason, General Manager Dave Gettleman said that the team believes that Newton will “take us to the promised land.”

Not everyone is as convinced as Gettleman about Newton’s ability to take the Panthers to those heights with many citing Newton’s career completion percentage of 59.5 as a reason why he won’t get them over the hump. Gettleman acknowledges there’s room for growth in Newton’s game but that it’s just part of the process of growing into his job.

“He’s developing at a solid rate,” Gettleman said, via ESPN.com. “We’re excited about having him. He just needs to continue to hone his game. He’ll get better. [His accuracy is] like anything else, he’ll get better. I get frustrated because everybody wants a guy to be great yesterday. It doesn’t work like that. And oh, by the way, he’s trying to do his job while people are trying to rip his lungs out. People don’t want to get it. We gave him what we gave him because we believe very strongly in him.”

Gettleman also said he thinks this year’s receiving group is the best that Newton has worked with since joining the Panthers, something that should help Newton’s development in his fifth season with the team. Better offensive line play would help as well because nothing will stunt Newton’s growth quicker than an injury that knocks him out of the lineup for an extended period of time.

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Bears sign former L.A. Kiss wide receiver A.J. Cruz

'Kiss' Performs in New Jersey Getty Images

Detroit might be rock city, but it’s another NFC North team that is extending the Kiss tour.

According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears have filled out their roster by signing wide receiver A.J. Cruz.

That might not have ordinarily been worth more than a line in the transaction agate, but he once played for Florio’s favorite Arena League team — the L.A. Kiss.

He was actually with the Arizona Rattlers this season, but once a member of the Kiss Army, always a member of the Kiss Army. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Cruz was an all-Ivy League player at Brown, a slightly more prestigious academic institution than Gene Simmons Rock School.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Corey Graham is ready to make the move to safety for the Bills.

Which cornerbacks will play alongside Brent Grimes for the Dolphins?

A breakdown of the Patriots offensive line.

The Jets are expected to sign WR Austin Hill.

WR Steve Smith is ready for his second training camp with the Ravens.

What goes wrong for the Bengals in the second half of playoff games?

The Browns will be looking for a kicker this summer.

LB Lawrence Timmons has become one of the Steelers’ defensive leaders.

Said Texans DE J.J. Watt, “Training camp’s the greatest. Because it’s a chance for you to try new moves. Try new things. See what’s successful, see what’s not.”

Trent Cole gives the Colts more options at outside linebacker.

Rookie WR Rashad Greene likes his chemistry with Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

The Titans are banking on Perrish Cox improving their play at cornerback.

Broncos rookie T Ty Sambrailo has a lot to learn in a short period of time.

Rookies and quarterbacks report for Chiefs camp on Tuesday.

Jack Del Rio is the latest coach to try to turn things around with the Raiders.

Said Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich, “You really want to in this business impose your will on your opponent. What that means is not running it 50 times a game. What it means is running it when you want to run it.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says the team needs to prove itself again this year.

The Giants need T Ereck Flowers to develop quickly.

The Eagles waived RB Matthew Tucker with a non-football injury.

A few things to watch on offense at Redskins camp.

Bears CB Kyle Fuller threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field.

Sledding down volcanoes is the latest offseason adventure for Lions LB DeAndre Levy.

Keeping QB Aaron Rodgers healthy is a Packers priority this season.

Vikings S Anthony Sendejo recommends bringing your own toilet paper to training camp.

Assessing the Falcons cornerbacks ahead of training camp.

The Panthers feel the roster is stronger than it was at this time last year.

How will the departure of LB Junior Galette impact the Saints?

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans got a tattoo of the NFL shield.

QB Drew Stanton feels healthy heading into Cardinals camp.

The Rams have a lot of players in the final year of their contracts.

49ers players hope to prove people wrong this season.

Will Alvin Bailey give the Seahawks what they need at left guard?

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Arians sees Welter hire as a benefit, not a distraction

Arians Getty Images

The Cardinals have long been at the NFL’s cutting edge when it comes to diversity. On Monday, the franchise tore through a wall that many thought never would budge.

Dr. Jen Welter has joined the team as a training-camp intern, working with inside linebackers for the next six weeks. Though short-term in duration, the assignment could spark permanent change in the manner in which football at every level views the involvement of women as coaches.

Because Welter is the first, the move could be viewed as a potential distraction. And football coaches ordinarily loathe distractions. But Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t see it that way.

“This is not going to be a distraction,” Arians told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “It’s going to be a benefit to our team.”

It will be a benefit because Dr. Welter brings to the table not only football knowledge and experience but advanced degrees in psychology.

“I don’t think the players care, as long as they are being coached to get better,” Arians said. “With her background as a player, a coach and a psychologist, I think our players will realize she can help them. She has a ton of energy and intelligence. We’re looking forward to having her on the staff.”

The move hardly means that the NFL will see an immediate influx of female coaches, in large part because the potential supply is currently very, very small. This gesture from the Cardinals and Arians will prompt more women to regard coaching football as a viable career path at lower levels of the sport, just as the promotion of Sarah Thomas to the NFL level will lead more women into football officiating.

“I think it’s time,” Arians said. “I am not afraid to step out and be different. Jen is a quality coach. She has earned this.”

Because of that, more women will realize that jobs like that are available to be earned. And they’ll begin the process of earning them.

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Cordarrelle Patterson still struggling with consistency

Cordarrelle Patterson AP

Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t take the step forward that the team wanted to see last season, leading Patterson to say this offseason that 2015 is going to be a make or break year for him.

If he wants it to wind up in the make column, he still has some work to do. Coach Mike Zimmer said that Patterson improved during offseason work, but that the third-year wideout still needs to figure out how to bring the necessary level of intensity and execution on a daily basis if he’s going to succeed in the NFL.

“Cordarrelle is on a good track right now, OK? Now, can he sustain? Can he continue to sustain what he’s doing? Because like today, I thought he had a good day,” Zimmer said, via USA Today. “In OTAs, I thought he improved. He’ll have really good days, and then he’ll have some not-so-good days. Really, I think what he needs to do is just the consistency every single day and the consistency in studying, the consistency in getting extra help that he needs if he needs it, running the routes the same all the time and understanding that there’s a lot of great athletes that play professional sports, and there’s a lot of great athletes that don’t make it in professional sports because they don’t have the other intangibles. To me, the biggest thing with him is that: Does he want to be ‘Flash’ or does he want to be a great receiver? I’m not trying to dog him or anything, but that’s really what it is.”

Patterson’s behind Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright at receiver with fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs also vying for time on offense. If the Vikings can’t count on consistent practice performances, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be doing anything more than returning kicks as long as he’s in Minnesota.

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Chris Cooley not “holding out hope” of signing with team soon

Chris Cooley AP

Last week brought reports that the Cardinals were interested in the possibility of bringing tight end Chris Cooley onto their roster, but they opted for signing Jermaine Gresham in a move that likely closed the door on Cooley in the desert.

Cooley’s not giving up his hopes of making a comeback, although he’s also not “holding out hope” that he’s going to be signed by any team at any point in the immediate future. Cooley said he did talk to Arizona before they signed Gresham, but that he expects that camp will play out for a while before he’ll pop up on anyone else’s radar.

“I will absolutely continue to work out,” Cooley said, via ESPN.com. “And look towards realistically a later date in someone’s camp after an injury were to occur or even into the season, which I would be fine with. It would probably have to be a team that realistically has a chance of winning this year. Teams that don’t have a chance of winning don’t sign 33-year-old tight ends.”

If Cooley is on a roster for the first week of the season, his salary is guaranteed for the entire year so it’s probably a good bet that teams would be hesitant to bring him on board before that point. And it won’t be a return to the Redskins regardless of their circumstances at the position (or their chances of winning this year) as Cooley is barred from playing for them because the team employs him in a broadcasting role.

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Texas authorities still investigating Antonio Smith as camp nears

Miami Dolphins v Houston Texans Getty Images

The Broncos report to camp Thursday, which means they need to make some decisions on where certain players stand.

That’s harder, since a set of local authorities in Texas are moving with Goodell-like speed on an investigation that began in February.

According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Fort Bend (Texas) County district attorney has not determined whether he’ll charge Broncos defensive end Antonio Smith for anything.

The complaint is still under investigation and no determination has been made to formally charge Mr. Smith at this time,” the Fort Bend, Texas District Attorney said Monday.

The Broncos excused the veteran lineman from OTAs after he was accused of criminal child sexual abuse, clearly not wanting to associate their brand with someone under investigation. But if they don’t hear something soon, it creates an interesting decision for them as players are about to show up for work.

They’ve stayed in contact with Smith throughout the offseason, so it’s unclear if they’re ready to part ways. From a purely football standpoint, they could use him, especially after Derek Wolfe was suspended four games for a PED violation.

But this case is obviously more sensitive, which is why some guidance from the legal system is something they’d probably prefer.

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