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Darren Sproles moves closer to a return

Darren Sproles, Mike Adams AP

Saints running back Darren Sproles was expected by some to miss six games with a broken hand.  In the end, he may miss only two.

A day after returning to practice on a limited basis, Sproles fully participated in Thursday’s session.  We’re told he’s expected to participate fully in practice again on Friday, and that a decision on whether he’ll face the Raiders on Sunday will depend on how the hand responds after this week’s practice sessions.

The Saints have won four of five games, and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has won three of four all time in Oakland.  It’s his first trip back since leaving the Chargers after the 2005 season.

Right tackle Zach Streif missed practice with a lingering groin injury, as did defensive end Junior Galette (ankle) and cornerback Corey White (knee).  Receiver Courtney Robey (shoulder) fully participated.

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Tom Jackson won’t be back at ESPN

ESPN commentators Tom Jackson and  Chris Berman during the ESPN Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams in St. Louis, Missouri on December 11, 2006.  The Bears won 42 - 27.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The report from Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News that Tom Jackson will leave ESPN provided some wiggle room for the veteran analyst to return to Sunday NFL Countdown for what would be his 30th season. Multiple industry sources tell PFT that the decision has been made: Jackson won’t be coming back.

As one source explained it, ESPN’s decision to bring back Trent Dilfer after his contract had expired and it appeared he would leaving arose in part from Jackson’s decision to leave.

Jackson had long been regarded as being tied at the hip with on-air partner Chris Berman. With Berman reportedly entering his last year at ESPN, it’s somewhat odd that Jackson wouldn’t want to do a victory lap with Berman.

Unless, of course, that victory lap will be all about Berman and/or consist of Berman complaining about the fact that ESPN management has apparently nudged him out.

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CFL expands use of coach-to-quarterback communication system

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 30:  Bo Levi Mitchell #19 of the Calgary Stampeders passes upfield during the 102nd Grey Cup Championship Game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at BC Place November 30, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Calgary won 20-16. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) Getty Images

The CFL often does thing differently than the NFL. In some cases, the CFL’s differences make the Canadian version of pro football better.

A little-known change for 2016 has invites speculation regarding whether a similar change in the NFL would be good for business.

As explained by Scott Mitchell of the Calgary Herald, the CFL for the first time in 2016 allows the coach-to-quarterback communication system to operate to the snap, and beyond.

Calgary Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson called the change an “executive decision” of which he wasn’t aware until the season began. Dickenson also said that his team has not yet used the system during a play to tell the quarterback what to do with the ball in real time.

“In theory, they can,” Dickenson said. “We don’t feel like it’s the best thing to say, ‘Go deep,’ or ‘Take the flat.’ The game’s going so fast and, I think, it might be easier from the booth to see stuff, what pops and what doesn’t pop, but I don’t yell into his ear. I think coaches, in that case, would be trying to be more important than they are. Just stay out of the way. You need to coach your quarterback well enough that he sees what he sees and he trusts his eyes and he throws it.”

“We kind of found out, I think, in Week One,” Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said. “I remember Dave coming and telling me about it and I was kind of skeptical about it at first because we didn’t do it in training camp.”

Bo Levi Mitchell has only one specific request when it comes to the use of the technology.

“I told him it was something that, ‘Hey, if you’re comfortable saying it then I trust you when you say things,'” Bo Levi Mitchell said. “Obviously, the only time I don’t want it is when I’m in the huddle trying to talk to guys. You can’t have somebody yelling in your ear and you can’t hear anything.”

For the NFL, where the system cuts off 15 seconds before the snap, the question becomes whether it makes sense to allow a coach to continue speaking to the quarterback beyond that point, including during the live play. Given that the CFL teams apparently didn’t know the change was coming until the season began, it’s still too early to know whether it will be an improvement, given that teams really didn’t get a chance to experiment with it or to plan for using it.

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Report: Tom Jackson may not be back on ESPN this year

ESPN commentator Tom Jackson on the set before  the Carolina Panthers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on  Monday Night Football Nov. 13, 2006 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Getty Images

If 2016 will be, as it appears, Chris Berman’s last year at ESPN, he possibly won’t be joined for his farewell tour by Tom Jackson.

Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News reports that the 65-year-old Jackson “likely will not return” to ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown this year.

“He’s still weighing his options,” an industry source told Raissman. “This will be Tommy’s call. It’s up to him. Tommy’s driving the train on this one. The situation is fluid.”

Regardless of whether it’s fluid, the clock is ticking toward the start of the season. Just last week, ESPN announced that Randy Moss will be joining the show. Charles Woodson and Matthew Hasselbeck also are in, and holdovers like Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, and Cris Carter are out. If Jackson goes — and Raissman’s source predicts Jackson will indeed leave — Berman will be the only common link among the core group on the show.

Jackson played 14 years with the Broncos before joining ESPN after the end of his career. The coming season would be his 30th at ESPN.

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Gordon says he’s “blessed,” excited to return to football

Cleveland Browns v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was conditionally cleared to return to the NFL Monday afternoon, and Monday evening Gordon issued a statement via his Twitter account.

I’m blessed and grateful to be granted this opportunity,” Gordon said. “I can’t wait to get back out there and play the game I love in front of the great fans of Cleveland. I want to thank the NFLPA, Commissioner Goodell, the Haslam family and Browns organization, my agent Drew Rosenhaus, as well as my mentors for their continuous support along the way.

“I’ve heard only good things from my teammates about the positive direction the organization is heading and I want to do everything I can to be there to help further that process not only for the team but to better myself as well. Thank you.”

Based on the team’s statement about Gordon’s reinstatement, the Browns sound like they’re willing to work with Gordon if he’s willing to play by the rules. He’s played in just five games the last two years due to suspensions but led the NFL in receiving in 2013.

Gordon will be suspended for the first four games of this season if he meets conditions of his reinstatement but will be allowed to participate in team meetings during those four weeks.

The Browns open full camp Friday, but rookies and injured players reported Monday. Gordon hasn’t been allowed to be around the team, so it’s expected he would fly from Los Angeles — he apparently was there when he was seen on Johnny Manziel’s Snapchat videos Monday morning — to Cleveland as soon as possible so the requisite meetings can take place and the team can lay down its ground rules for Gordon.

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Raiders will start camp without Helu, two rookies

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 04:  Roy Helu #26 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Soldier Field on October 4, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders announced a host of pre-camp roster moves Monday, including the expected procedural move of putting veteran running back Roy Helu Jr. on the active/physically unable to perform list.

Helu had surgery on both hips last winter and didn’t participate in the team’s offseason program. Helu played in nine games as a backup running back and special teams player last season, his first with the Raiders after three seasons with the Redskins.

The Raiders also placed undrafted rookie defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. on active/PUP. Seventh-round offensive lineman Vadal Alexander was placed on the active/non-football injury list.

Players on active-PUP and active-NFI count against the team’s 90-man roster limit and can be activated during camp when they’re cleared by doctors.

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Cris Carter says he wouldn’t have made it to the Hall of Fame without Dennis Green

cris-carter-nfl-bounty-e1336607466184 Getty Images

Plenty of people have heaped plenty of praise on Dennis Green, the former Vikings and Cardinals coach who died three days ago at the age of 67. One Hall of Famer who played for Green admits that, without Green, the gold jacket and bronze bust never would have been issued.

“No, absolutely not,” receiver Cris Carter told PFT Live on Monday regarding whether he would have made it to the Hall of Fame without Green. “I mean, he made me the focal point of the offense. He challenged me in ways no one ever challenged me as a man. He challenged me every game. I mean his pregame speech was, ‘Football’s a team game but it’s individual battles and in those individual battles I need you to whoop your man.’ He would just single me out, be like, ‘Chris Carter, are you gonna whoop your man?’ and I was like, ‘Yes sir.’

“‘They’re gonna double team you probably sixty to seventy percent of the time, are you gonna whoop your man?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yes, sir,'” Carter added.

“We had a roll call and Denny would go down through the locker room and ask them, ‘Johnny Randle are you gonna whoop your man?’ and then he typically would finish [with], ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna whoop the other coach.'”

Part of whooping the other coach was having a keen eye for talent and the ability to get the most out of that talent. When it comes to the many quarterbacks who thrived under Green, Cris Carter had very strong comments about a guy who started only 10 games during Green’s 10-year career as head coach.

“He did an unbelievable job with Jeff George,” Carter said. “Man, I wish we could’ve played more with Jeff George because his story would be totally different. The vibe that he had with Denny and the relationship he had with the other players, where he didn’t have to be a leader. . . . Jeff George was truly an amazing talent and, man, we had no problems, no issues with Jeff George. Loved him in the locker room and got great results from him on the field.”

George left the Vikings after only one season, joining Washington as a free agent. After a failed attempt to woo Dan Marino to Minnesota, Green opted to go with Daunte Culpepper, a 1999 first-round pick who carried the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2000, a season overshadowed by a 41-0 embarrassment against the Giants.

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Source: Mannings allowed NFL to see all relevant documents

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MARCH 07:  Quarterback Peyton Manning addresses the media as he announces his retirement from the NFL at the UCHealth Training Center on March 7, 2016 in Englewood, Colorado. Manning, who played for both the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in a career which spanned 18 years, is the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns (539), passing yards (71,940) and tied for regular season QB wins (186). Manning played his final game last month as the winning quarterback in Super Bowl 50 in which the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers, earning Manning his second Super Bowl title.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

Throughout the investigation arising from the allegations in an Al Jazeera documentary regarding quarterback Peyton Manning, one clear path existed to getting to the bottom of the situation: Reviewing all relevant documents in the possession, custody, or control of the Guyer Institute regarding the treatment Manning and his wife received.

Although the statement released by the NFL seemed a bit vague on this point, a source with direct knowledge of the investigation tells PFT that, indeed, all relevant documents was provided to the NFL regarding the treatment the Mannings received.

Per the source, Peyton Manning was interviewed by the league recently. The session was lengthy and thorough.

Some may still say that the league didn’t try hard enough or that documents were falsified or anything other than, “The case should now be closed.” While skepticism often has its place, there’s really nothing more that can be done other than to accept that the NFL looked into the situation, that the Mannings cooperated fully, and that there was no credible evidence of a PED violation.

But if there are lingering suspicions that, a year after the NFL applied a scorched-earth approach to the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, the league didn’t pursue Manning aggressively enough, the NFL can blame only itself for allowing over the past few years a perception to arise that investigations are conducted with the desired ending point firmly in mind. That perception works to the detriment not only of the NFL but also to the detriment of people like Peyton Manning, who deserves the type of clear, unequivocal exoneration that becomes impossible if some have a plausible basis to decline to accept the league at its word.

In this specific case, there’s no reason not to accept the league at its word.

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Terron Armstead, Keenan Lewis among Saints on PUP list

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 15: Cornerback Keenan Lewis #21 of the New Orleans Saints looks on prior to a game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 15, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said recently that he expects to be on the field for the first day of training camp, but the team appears to have other ideas.

Lewis was on one of four Saints placed on the physically unable to perform list on Monday, leaving him short of clearance to take part in practice after an offseason that saw him have knee, hip and sports hernia surgeries. Lewis’ health woes limited him to six games last season and he didn’t play particularly well when he was on the field, so both team and player will be hoping things play out differently this season.

Left tackle Terron Armstead is also on the PUP list. Armstead, who signed a five-year extension this offseason, dealt with a knee injury last year, but practiced this spring so it’s likely a precautionary move by the team.

Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha is on the list after tearing his ACL in OTAs and placing him on the list leaves open the possibility, however slim, that he could play this season. Wide receiver Vincent Brown rounds out the group of Saints players not yet cleared for practice.

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Patriots start camp with six offensive starters on PUP

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 29:  Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots  carries the ball after a catch during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on October 29, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots are starting training camp with a big contingent on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Starting receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, starting running back Dion Lewis, starting tackle Sebastian Vollmer and starting guards Tre Jackson and Shaquille Mason are all on PUP.

That’s probably not a reason to be concerned, however. Players often open camp on PUP if they’re recovering from even minor injuries, and many players who open camp on PUP are ready to go before the start of the preseason.

It’s likely that all six starters will be on the field for Week One. If there’s a concern in New England, it’s that Tom Brady won’t be joining them.

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Jordy Nelson, Jared Cook to start camp on PUP list

Jordy Nelson AP

Packers coach Mike McCarthy thinks quarterback Aaron Rodgers is in the best shape of his time in Green Bay, but six members of the team aren’t healthy enough to avoid the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp.

The NFL’s daily transaction report brings word that wide receiver Jordy Nelson, tight end Jared Cook, linebacker Sam Barrington, guard T.J. Lang, center Corey Linsley and wide receiver Ty Montgomery will all open camp on the PUP list. All six can be activated at any time, but they will not be eligible for the regular season version of the list once they take part in a practice.

Nelson missed last season with a torn ACL and has been the subject of several positive reports about his recovery, although there’s not much reason for the team to go from 0 to 60 right off the bat. Cook had foot surgery this offseason, Montgomery had ankle surgery and Lang had shoulder surgery, but there’s been no talk that they’re at risk of missing the start of the season.

The Packers also waived defensive end B.J. McBryde and running back Don Jackson. Jackson’s departure came with the non-football injury designation.

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Browns will discuss expectations, direction with Josh Gordon directly

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 23: Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns walks of the field after beating the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 23, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Browns won 26-24.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL conditionally reinstated Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon from his suspension on Monday, although he will miss at least the first four games of the year before he’s given the green light to return to game action.

Gordon will be allowed to take part in training camp and the preseason and is permitted to remain with the team while not practicing during those first four weeks. In a statement, Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said that the Browns will discuss what will happen at that point with Gordon when the team opens camp.

“With the league’s decision to afford Josh the opportunity to resume his career, he will be with us for the start of training camp,” Brown said. “At that time, we will discuss directly with Josh the direction of our team, our expectations of our players and our plan to support him on and off the field.”

Having Gordon on the field would be a boost to the Browns offense, although it will be a limited one if his return is followed by further off-field issues. Their conversations with Gordon in the coming weeks will likely determine whether the Browns feel that risk is too big for them to take.

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NFL, NFLPA unveil new concussion protocol enforcement policy

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 22: Quarterback Case Keenum #17 of the St. Louis Rams holds his head after taking a hit against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won, 16-13. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last year’s embarrassing failure of the Rams and the NFL to get quarterback Case Keenum off the field when he obviously had suffered a concussion resulted in no discipline for anyone involved. However, that failure apparently has contributed directly to the development of a new procedure for enforcing the concussion protocol with real discipline moving forward.

The joint agreement of the NFL and NFL Players Association announced Monday entails each party designate a representative “to monitor the implementation of the protocol and investigate potential violations.” The press release announcing the program explains that “[t]he investigation will not reach medical conclusions; it will only determine whether the protocol was followed.” After the investigation, the league and union “will review the findings to determine if a violation occurred and, if so, to recommend the proper disciplinary response.”

If the parties can’t agree on whether a violation occurred, the matter will be submitted to a third-party arbitrator. The arbitrator eventually will issue a report to Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, and the involved parties.

Ultimately, Goodell has “absolute discretion” to determine the penalties. Still, this process creates a high degree of transparency, making it much harder for situations to be swept under the rug.

A first violation can trigger a fine of up to $150,000. If Goodell finds aggravating circumstances, the minimum fine will be $50,000. Subsequent violations will result in minimum fines of $100,000.

The procedure also allows for the Commissioner to strip draft picks, if Goodell “determines that the club’s medical team failed to follow the protocol due to competitive considerations.”

That’s the provision that will get the attention of the teams. Fines are viewed a cost of doing business; lost draft picks directly affect the ability to do business.

Whether it ever comes to that remains to be seen. Regardless, it appears that something good finally has emerged from last year’s bizarre failure of the Rams and the league to protect Case Keenum.

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Report: Taylor Mays suspended additional four games

Taylor Mays AP

The Bengals released safety Taylor Mays over the weekend in a move that may be explained by Mays’ unavailability for the first half of the season.

We learned in March that Mays was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. On Monday, we learned his absence will be even longer.

Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL Media report that Mays has been suspended for an additional four games. Rapoport reports that the Bengals haven’t ruled out bringing Mays back to the team once his punishment has run its course, although there’s a lot that will happen between now and then that could change their minds.

Mays played for the Bengals from 2011-2014 and spent last season with the Raiders after brief stints with the Lions and Vikings.

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Jerry Jones issues statement following fatal crash involving bus

Jerry Jones AP

On Sunday, an accident involving the Cowboys bus resulted in the death of four persons in a van. On Monday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones issued a statement regarding the incident.

An accident involving loss of life is tragic,” Jones said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We as an organization are deeply saddened, and our thoughts, prayers and concerns at this time are with the family members and loved ones of all who were lost.”

The Cowboys bus was traveling from Texas to Las Vegas for a promotional appearance. It was then due to arrive in Oxnard for training camp.

Officials have said the driver of the van caused the accident by making an illegal turn. Photos of the van from the scene of the accident show a graphic degree of significant damage.

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Washington not interested in Dwight Freeney

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field following the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeatred the Packers 38-30.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Washington is suddenly without a veteran pass-rusher after Junior Galette suffered another torn Achilles today.

But they’re not looking to fill his spot with someone even more veteran.

According to John Keim of ESPN.com, Washington isn’t interested in signing free agent Dwight Freeney.

Freeney had 8.0 sacks for Arizona last season (and 119.5 in 14 NFL seasons), seemingly showing that he has enough left in the tank at age 36 to hustle up a job.

But Washington’s apparently willing to give long looks to second-rounders Preston Smith (2015) and Su’a Cravens (2016), and doesn’t want to invest in more of a proven commodity.

 

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