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Vikings holding out hope for Percy Harvin

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It’s no surprise that wide receiver Percy Harvin missed practice for the Vikings on Wednesday.

Harvin called himself a “long shot” to play in Week 10 as a result of the ankle injury that he suffered during last week’s loss to the Seahawks. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is sounding more optimistic notes about Harvin’s chances of both returning to practice and playing against the Lions. He said Harvin is “making improvements” as the week moves along.

“Percy is doing better,” Frazier said, via Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. “He won’t practice (Wednesday). We’ll take it day to day, see how he feels (Thursday).”

Harvin has 62 catches for 677 yards this season and he’s scored five touchdowns. The Vikings are getting Jarius Wright ready to fill a bigger role on the offense in the event that Harvin can’t play. Frazier also said that Jerome Simpson hasn’t returned to his old form since hurting his back earlier this season, so this isn’t really shaping up to be the weekend that the Vikings passing game snaps back to life.

Or, put another way, Adrian Peterson should probably plan on a busy day.

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Replay change still requires approval from 24 owners

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Commissioner Roger Goodell has done enough writing and talking about changes to the replay system to cause many to assume it’s a done deal.

It’s not.

A source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed to PFT that the proposed alterations to the process require the approval of at least 24 of the owners. Which means either that Goodell knows he has the votes, or that he’s using an eleventh-hour media blitz to help deliver votes from those who also employ and pay him.

While it’s unknown how other owners feel about shifting final say over the process from the referee to the league office, multiple league sources consistently have expressed concern about involving anyone not at the game site.

“Who’s in the replay room?” one source asked PFT this morning. “Still nebulous answer. Bad idea.”

Whoever wrote Goodell’s “Dear Fans” letter may be sensitive to the potential criticism of the change in who makes the decision. Consider this key sentence: “Instead of a fixed sideline monitor, we will bring a tablet to the Referee who can review the play in consultation with our officiating headquarters in New York, which has the final decision.”

The most important aspect of the adjustment is tacked onto the end of the sentence, with the subtle use of “has” instead of “will have” or “would now have” or anything else that would highlight that the change is far more significant that the removal of the peep-show booth and the enhancement to Microsoft’s product placement investment.

By early next week, it will be more clear as to whether nine teams or a number close to that oppose the change. Before the end of the week, the change that for now is only a proposal will be an official rule. Unless it isn’t.

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Bengals bringing back running back Cedric Peerman

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The Bengals have seen plenty of players leave this offseason, but they’re hanging onto to one of their own.

According to Zac Jackson of TheAthletic.com (the name’s not familiar, but the face rings a bell), the Bengals are bringing back running back Cedric Peerman.

Peerman’s a solid addition to their special teams, and in the absence of Rex Burkhead could have him take on some degree of role in offense.

They considered him valuable enough to use their designated for return spot on him last year, so they obviously value him around there.

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Celebration violations could be flagged and not fined

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Earlier this morning, I argued that the NFL should handle improper celebrations not with penalties imposed against the team but with fines imposed against the player. And, of course, the opposite is actually what may happen.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL actually may dump the fines but still throw penalty flags.

That approach would eliminate a large amount of the criticism that the NFL experiences, with the No-Fun-League no longer picking player pockets. Still, moving the kickoff point from the 35 to the 20 could have a major impact on a game. What if there’s a borderline celebration after a go-ahead touchdown late in a Super Bowl, resulting in the team that’s losing getting an enhanced chance at tying the game or winning it? (Under current rules, that should have happened at the end of Super Bowl XLIII.)

Also, a penalty for illegal celebrations essentially guarantees that there will be an extra kickoff return. With the NFL trying to legislate that play out of the game, that’s definitely a reason for penalty flags not to be thrown for celebration violations.

As a practical matter, this approach shifts the focus to the teams, and it gives the teams an even greater incentive to insist on compliance and accountability. With the league no longer punishing the player who celebrates in a manner that draws a flag, maybe the coach will be more willing to do so himself.

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Jerry Richardson skipping owners meetings again

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When NFL owners convene Sunday in Phoenix, Panthers founder Jerry Richardson won’t be with them. Again.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the 80-year-old Richardson will not be in attendance, but the team will send a six-member team of personnel to vote for the team.

Richardson skipped last year’s meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., having scheduled shoulder surgery the same week. Team spokesman Steven Drummond said Richardson’s health was good, but he didn’t feel up to the demands of two cross-country flights. Richardson’s been dealing with knee issues as well. He had a heart transplant in 2009.

Of course, when he was absent last year, they had a team president. But since then, Danny Morrison has resigned, and they haven’t named a replacement.

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Sean Payton reportedly speaking with Johnny Manziel

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If Johnny Manziel returns to the NFL, it could be as the backup to Drew Brees.

That’s the word from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, who reports that Saints coach Sean Payton has taken an interest in Manziel and talked to him about a return to football.

In New Orleans, Manziel would have no chance of earning a starting job, but he could earn a spot as a backup to Brees, where he’d learn from a veteran quarterback and perhaps get himself ready to be a starter some day.

Still, talking to Manziel and actually signing him are two very different things. If the Saints were convinced that Manziel was ready to put his personal problems behind him and contribute to a team, they could have signed him already, and they haven’t done so.

After he flamed out in Cleveland, it remains to be seen whether the Saints — or anyone else — will give Manziel a second chance.

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Goodell wants to strip commercialization and promos from game broadcasts

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s well-publicized, and curiously-timed, letter to fans focused on a variety of intriguing topics. On some, he was clear. On one he was vague.

“We . . . know that you feel there are too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field,” Goodell wrote. “With our partners, we will be looking to instead focus on content that is most complementary and compelling to you — whether that is analysis, highlights or stories about our players. All of these changes are meant to give you more of what you want: a competitive game with fewer interruptions and distractions from the action.”

Appearing on Thursday’s Mike & Mike, Goodell elaborated on his point.

“It could be commercial related, it could be an advertisement for selling a jersey, it could be a promo for something that the network’s running that week,” Goodell said. “And frankly, to be blunt about it, it’s like an intrusion on the game. And I sense that. I’ve felt the increased commercialization.”

While I personally can’t recall any in-game “advertisement[s] for selling a jersey” (other than the Nike ad necessarily contained on every jersey) promotions “for something that the network’s running that week” have been part of the game broadcasts for decades. It’s one of the reasons why the networks pay billions-with-a-b for the rights to broadcast the games. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons networks have justified taking a net loss on their NFL deals; they make it back by pumping up the rest of the network’s offerings.

When the game is happening, there are few diversions from the explanation of the play and the reaction to it. Promos happen during the lulls in the action, or when the game returns from a commercial break.

In recent years, the most notable intrusion on the game has been the ongoing effort to wedge the Microsoft tablet into the broadcast. And with the looming changes to the replay system, there will be more — not fewer — shots of the tablet, which the league gets hundreds of millions to promote.

So if “increased commercialization” is a problem, it needs to be scrutinized in all forms. And it presumably rules out for good conclusively potential innovations/intrusions like the inevitable (in the minds of some) expansion of uniform advertisement from the logo of the company that made the jersey.

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NFL should fine, not penalize, celebration violations

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The ongoing debate regarding the issue of player celebrations in the NFL overlooks a key threshold question: If a player goes too far, why should his team be penalized?

In theory, taking away 15 yards of field position creates a strong incentive for coaches to tell players what is and isn’t allowed, and to enforce it. But why should the team be punished for a player crossing in the heat of the moment a line that has nothing to do with the play of the game, and that creates no harm to the opponent?

The NFL consistently has explained that the rule arises from a desire to not invite retaliation from players who feel disrespected by a celebration. If someone crosses the line in that regard, however, the league has tools for dealing with it. Also, when since T.O. stood on the Dallas star did a player ever take matters into his own hands because of a celebration?

Players should be expected to not react to anything that happens on the football field, and chances are that the temptation to retaliate comes more strongly from direct contact that happens between the snap and the whistle. So vague fear of player retaliation shouldn’t be a reason for restricting celebrations — and it definitely doesn’t justify imposing a 15-yard penalty on the player’s team.

Removing the penalty element also makes the celebration violation less of a talking point on the day of the game. By the time the fine is imposed, the fans will be paying attention to something else.

So instead of obsessing over every little nuance about what is and isn’t allowed regarding conduct that may or may not cause 15 percent of the field to shift, why not simply make it a topic no different than the player wearing non-conforming shoes or otherwise doing things that may get them in trouble personally, but that won’t impact the team?

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Patrick Mahomes, Joshua Dobbs had private workouts for Chargers

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The Chargers know that Philip Rivers will be their starting quarterback in 2017 and he’s under contract for a couple more seasons, but they have started thinking about what comes next at the position.

General Manager Tom Telesco didn’t rule out drafting a quarterback early in the draft when asked about the future at quarterback earlier this month and the team got an up-close look at one that’s expected to be off the board fairly in April’s proceedings. Eric Williams of ESPN.com reports that the Chargers held a private workout with Patrick Mahomes in Lubbock, Texas recently.

Head coach Anthony Lynn, who also went to Texas Tech, attended the workout along with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Chargers also had a private workout with Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who is projected to be a third day pick next month. Getting picked at that point wouldn’t make him the heir apparent for Rivers, but would give the Chargers a prospect to develop as they begin life in Los Angeles.

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Terron Armstead restructures contract

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The Saints have a bit more cap space to play with this year.

Field Yates of ESPN.com reports that left tackle Terron Armstead has agreed to restructure his deal with the team. Armstead’s $5 million roster bonus has been converted into a signing bonus to spread the cap hit out over a deal that runs through the 2021 season.

The immediate impact of the move is that the Saints will have $4 million in cap space available this offseason that wasn’t previously at their disposal.

Any new money added to the Saints’ coffers leads to thoughts that they could apply that to their pursuit of Patriots cornerback and restricted free agent Malcolm Butler. The offer sheet for Butler is only part of the equation, of course, as the Patriots have the right to match and the Saints would have to be OK with giving up the 11th overall pick in the draft if New England doesn’t match.

There’s also a chance the two sides could work out a deal for different compensation, although that can’t happen unless Butler signs his restricted free agent tender or another deal with the Patriots.

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Goodell says he’s “fine” with Trump’s comment on Kaepernick

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President Trump took some credit for Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment this week, saying that NFL owners may not want to sign Kaepernick because they don’t want the president to tweet criticism of a team for signing a player who declined to stand for the national anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says Trump is entitled to that point of view.

Asked about Trump’s comment on Mike & Mike, Goodell said, “That’s a comment that he’s going to make and that’s fine.”

Goodell indicated, however, that he thinks teams are evaluating Kaepernick’s on-field abilities.

“Our teams are out there working hard to figure out how they can improve each of their clubs. They’re making the best decisions they can. And they’re going to do what they can to improve their teams and win. That’s what they want to do for the fans. So that’s what they’re focused on and that’s what we’re focused on. Everyone’s going to make other comments, and obviously we’re respectful of those comments, particularly from the president.”

Ultimately, Goodell said, teams build around players they think will help them win.

“I can’t speculate on that,” Goodell said. “The 32 owners, I think their major focus is on winning and whatever it takes to win and they think reflects well on their team, that’s what they’re gonna do. And so I think from their standpoint, they want to win, and they’re putting teams together and trying to find the players and coaches and everyone else who can help create that kind of chemistry that’s going to lead to a winning team.”

It remains to be seen how long Kaepernick will have to wait to find a team that thinks he can help it win.

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NFL plans to speed up Thursday night games

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As NFL ratings declined last year and fans complained that the quality of the game had slipped, Thursday night games drew particular wrath. The league is hoping to fix that.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL is working on improving the quality of Thursday games by reducing the number of commercial breaks.

“I felt the increased commercialization, particularly on Thursday night, where we’re going to have more aggressive changes — we’re going to reduce that,” Goodell said.

Goodell said he didn’t realize how many commercial breaks there were during Thursday games last season and admits there were too many. Goodell seemed to be referring both to commercials from sponsors and to the networks taking time during games to promote their other shows.

“To my surprise last year, we put some more commercialization in there — there were some more spots in that I was not aware of and we saw that and we’re going to get that back out of the game,” Goodell said.
“So many mentions that are not related to the game on the field, we’re going to reduce that, we’re going to take that out.”

Fans will appreciate that. Especially fans who have to get up early for work on Friday morning, and aren’t keen on staying up late on Thursday nights to watch a lot of commercials.

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Roger Goodell: Dean Blandino will have final say on replay reviews

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For the first time ever, the NFL is moving to a rule that will give the league’s head of officiating — not the referee — final say on replay reviews.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Mike & Mike that under the 2017 rules, the replay review will go to head of officiating Dean Blandino, and although Blandino will consult with the referee on the field, it will be Blandino who makes the final decision. Although the NFL has already implemented the procedures that allow the referee to communicate with the league’s officiating office, in past years it was still the ref who had final say.

“We are going to centralize the replay back here in New York,” Goodell said. “Dean Blandino will have the final decision. We think that will move it much quicker.”

Goodell also said referees will be told to announce the replay decision immediately in the stadium, rather than waiting for the end of a commercial break, so that the ball can be spotted and the teams can be lined up and ready for the next play as soon as the commercial break ends.

“We want to get going. We want to be ready to play,” Goodell said.

The NFL has said that a major priority this season is speeding up games and cutting down on unnecessary delays. Streamlining replay is one way to do that.

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Peyton Manning says he has “no interest” in politics

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We still don’t know what Peyton Manning wants to do with the rest of his life.

But the retired quarterback seemed to cross one potential job off his list, saying during a speech in Las Vegas that he had no interest in politics.

Specifically, his name was linked with the seat of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, who is mulling retirement rather than running for a fourth term in 2020.

“I don’t know where that came from. Last week I was going to run a team, this week I going to apparently run for Senate, and next week I’ll be an astronaut,” Manning said, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. “I have no interest in the political world, but would like to continue serving communities.”

Honestly, Manning’s doing pretty well doing the speaking circuit at the moment, but there will always be speculation about him returning to football in some capacity. His name was linked with the Colts this offseason as a potential executive, and television seems to be there for him whenever he wants it.

But at the moment, he seems to be enjoying talking and playing a lot of golf, as he did at the recent AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Of course, that combination makes him uniquely qualified for certain jobs. All he really needs is a Twitter account.

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Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre can still sling it

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At a time when there aren’t nearly enough quarterbacks to fill all the starting roles in the NFL, Brett Favre is throwing again.

Sort of.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Hall of Fame quarterback took a day off from retirement to throw during a workout with Falcons cornerback Robert Alford.

Alford posted a short video on social media of Favre throwing, and there still seems to be plenty of pop in his right arm.

Of course, if Favre was thinking about doing anything more than tossing it around while wearing a pair of khakis, we’d have heard about it by now. Right?

I mean, he’s only 47, and would likely be an immediate upgrade for a few teams in the league, who either don’t have one, or have the money to burn on draft picks who might never become one.

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Thursday morning one-liners

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Bills OL Ryan Groy is ready for any role the team wants him to take.

Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry could be next on their laundry list of deals to do.

Patriots CB Malcolm Butler has people trying to decipher his social media for greater meaning.

The Jets continue to look at QBs after signing Josh McCown.

Most people see the Ravens leaning toward a WR with the 16th pick.

A number of Bengals players are still facing uncertain futures.

Return man Josh Cribbs retired as a member of the Browns.

The RB DeAngelo Williams era with the Steelers appears to be over.

The Texans are still looking for offensive line help.

New Colts WR Kamar Aiken has a chance to make an impact.

The Jaguars adding TE Mychal Rivera gives them some options at the position.

The Titans had a clear focus on improving their special teams this offseason.

The Broncos have interest in a DE Vance Walker return.

The Chiefs brought G Andrew Tiller in for a visit.

Southern Cal’s JuJu Smith-Schuster would love to stay home and play for the Chargers.

The Raiders might still be in the running for LB Zach Brown.

The Cowboys will be taking a long look at LBs in the draft.

The Giants have minimal risk in adding QB Geno Smith.

Former Eagles LB Connor Barwin has no hard feelings about his departure.

Former Washington RB Tim Hightower would be an interesting fit in the backfield now.

The Bears hope getting some guys healthy will make a difference in this offseason.

New Lions RT Rick Wagner said his struggles in 2015 were injury related.

A look at how the Packers could fill their remaining roster holes.

The Vikings were aware of RB Latavius Murray’s ankle surgery when they signed him.

New Falcons G Hugh Thornton is excited about the opportunity.

This is the time of year when people who have never examined Panthers QB Cam Newton have strong opinions about his diagnosis.

The Saints have kept a revolving door of LBs going recently.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston’s grandmother passed away.

Free agency helped bring the Cardinals draft board into focus.

The Rams adding RB Lance Dunbar and LB Connor Barwin was all about opportunity.

49ers free agent LB Gerald Hodges is visiting the Seahawks.

The Seahawks still need help on the offensive line.

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