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Ditka says a stroke won’t keep him down: “I’m Iron Mike”

chi_a_ditka_600 Getty Images

Mike Ditka was back to talking football on Monday morning, three days after he was hospitalized in Chicago with a minor stroke.

The 73-year-old Ditka appeared on Mike and Mike in the Morning and said he’s feeling fine and eager to get back to work as an ESPN analyst after watching football from his couch on Sunday.

“I feel pretty darn good. I’m optimistic. I feel good about everything: I’m Iron Mike,” he said. “I watched almost all the games.”

Ditka’s speech sounded fine and he was sharp and aware of all the day’s news in the NFL, and he said he viewed his stroke as more of a speed bump than a life-altering event.

“I was kind of driving down the highway of life really fast, and I had a flat tire,” Ditka said “I’m OK. You don’t expect those things to happen, but they come up on you.”

A Hall of Fame tight end who played for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys, Ditka coached the 1985 Bears to the championship at Super Bowl XX.

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Ryan Pace on Alshon Jeffery: He knows he has to stay healthy

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 08:  Alshon Jeffery #17 of the Chicago Bears participates in warm-ups before a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field on August 8, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Eagles 34-28.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery didn’t come to agreement on a multi-year deal this offseason, which leaves Jeffery playing out this year for the franchise tender of $14.6 million and on track for free agency after he season.

That situation has created some discomfort between teams and players in the past, but General Manager Ryan Pace is confident that it isn’t “going to affect him at all.” Jeffery signed his tender early in the process, so he’ll be at camp and Pace believes that the negotiating process didn’t leave any scars that will preclude the two sides from coming together after the season.

Pace also noted that Jeffery’s ability to stay healthy — the wideout missed seven games in 2015 — this season will impact any future talks.

“Those negotiations were friendly the whole time,” Pace said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t think it’s uncommon when you’re negotiating off the franchise tag to sometimes not come to an agreement. But that doesn’t mean there’s any ill will. We can revisit it after the season. But I’m optimistic. He’s a talented player. He knows he has to stay healthy. And we’ll see going forward.”

Jeffery produced well when he was on the field last season, just as he did while playing in every game during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. If he can do that again in 2016, one big obstacle to a long-term deal will be a little smaller in next year’s contract talks.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick: “It’s been a long six months for sure”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 27:  Eric Decker #87 of the New York Jets jumps on the back of  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets during a television interview after their 26-20 overtime win against the New England Patriots  at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ryan Fitzpatrick has been without a job for six months, and that means he’s been out of the context he’s most comfortable in.

The once-and-future Jets quarterback told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News he’s relieved to be back and get to work.

“Oh my gosh… it’s been a long six months for sure,” Fitzpatrick said. “The biggest feeling was relief. Just relief to have it over and done with. And then when I was driving in [Wednesday night to the team facility] and walking up to the team meeting, it was like the first day of school. I was just all excited to see everybody and to be back in the building. Because through the entire offseason program, I wasn’t allowed to be there.

“It was such a weird feeling. I was 10 minutes away just sitting at home getting calls and texts every day. After every practice, talking with the guys and not being allowed in the building to participate and compete with them. That made it an awfully long offseason for me. Now I’m ready to get to work.”

Fitzpatrick said — as everyone believed — that he always thought a deal would get done. He didn’t anticipate it taking this long, but remained positive through a stretch when Jets offers were being leaked.

“Unfortunately, we had to go through that long process to get to the end result,” he said. “But I didn’t have any doubts that at some point it would work itself out. . . . Everybody’s trying to get a leg up on the bargaining table with negotiations. I thought for the most part it was good that it stayed behind closed doors.

“There was obviously that one period where they released some of the numbers on the contract. Then all the numbers came out. There was such a he said-she said back-and-forth going on. I didn’t really love that part of it. Like I said, I’m ready to go and get to work and put it all behind us. And I’m glad that it’s over.”

The 34-year-old quarterback said he never considered retirement, and feels like he’s still getting better. After a productive season and 10 wins, he’s hoping to build on what the Jets did last year.

And now that he’s finally under contract, he can get back to what he enjoys most.

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Dak Prescott found not guilty of DUI

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 14:  Dak Prescott #15 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks to pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Davis Wade Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before quarterback Dak Prescott was selected by the Cowboys in the fourth round of the draft, he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in March.

The arrest in Starkville, Mississippi may have affected Prescott’s landing spot in the draft, but he won’t have the charges hanging over his head at Cowboys camp this summer. Prescott was found not guilty of DUI and speeding in Starkville, where he attended Mississippi State, on Wednesday.

“Dak is obviously extremely relieved this process is over,” Prescott’s lawyer Jay Perry said, via the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “He’s looking forward to going back to Dallas and then to California to compete in camp and learn from Tony Romo.”

In addition to Romo, Prescott is joined by Kellen Moore and Jameill Showers on the depth chart at quarterback in Dallas. Moore is expected to be Romo’s backup barring an outside addition or a summer showing from Prescott that elevates him more rapidly than expected.

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Tyler Varga: Fans should get used to players retiring earlier

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 3: Tyler Varga #38 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back Tyler Varga was willing to speak out last year, when he didn’t want to take a medication the Colts offered in the wake of a concussion.

And now that he’s retired from the NFL after one season, he says stories like his are going to become more and more common.

People shouldn’t be surprised when they hear about players retiring young,” Varga told Bob Kravitz of WTHR. “You’re seeing it more and more often these days.

“Players are far more educated now about the risks involved in playing football. Guys are more aware of the risks involved.”

For Varga, the risk was a drug which had side effects he feared, which included possible psychotic behavior. The Colts offered it in the wake of his concussion, but after researching, he chose to decline the offer.

“In the end, you just have to weigh the risk versus reward, do a cost/benefit analysis, and I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk,” Varga said. “I didn’t want to risk another big one [concussion] and having it impact my quality of life down the road. It was a difficult decision; it always is when you work so hard toward a goal and finally reach that goal, but after a long period of reflection, I felt like this was the best decision for my future.”

Varga laughed and said “I think I’ll take a pass on that one,” when asked if he trusted the league and its teams on the long-term effects of concussions.

The NFL has at least shown some interest in changing that perception, farming out controversial Dr. Elliott Pellman last week, removing someone viewed as a symbol of years of concussion-denial. And Varga’s well-prepared for his future without football, with a Yale degree in hand and likely the ability to make a living beyond what he’d have in a few more years of playing in the NFL.

And he considers himself one of the lucky ones.

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Josh Doctson opens first camp on PUP list

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Wide receiver Josh Doctson of TCU participates in a drill during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

When wide receiver Josh Doctson missed some practice time this spring with an Achilles injury, the word from the Redskins was that their first-round pick was being cautious in order to be ready to go for training camp.

That precaution may have kept the injury from getting worse, but Doctson isn’t going to be on the field with his teammates for the first practice of camp. The Redskins announced that Doctson was placed on the physically unable to perform list Thursday, leaving him unable to do more than work on the side until he’s activated from the list.

With DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon at the top of the depth chart, Doctson joins Jamison Crowder as options to join them in multiple receiver sets. Any missed time will work against Doctson seeing many of those snaps early in the season.

Tight end Derek Carrier, linebacker Perry Riley and guard Shaun Lauvao are on the PUP list as well. Carrier tore his ACL last year, Riley had foot surgery this offseason and Lauvao spent most of last year on injured reserve with ankle problems.

The Redskins also placed linebacker Junior Galette on the non-football injury list as a result of the Achilles he tore while working out last week. It’s the second straight year that Galette has suffered the injury, although it was a different leg this time around.

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Back injury lands DeMarcus Ware on NFI list

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 17:  DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Broncos strikes a pose during player introduction before the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos will have linebacker Von Miller on the field at the start of training camp, but his partner at the other outside linebacker spot isn’t quite ready to go at this point.

DeMarcus Ware will be on the non-football injury list as camp gets underway as he continues to deal with a back injury that hampered him at times last season and kept him from practicing with the team during their offseason program. Ware can’t practice as long as he’s on the list, but General Manager John Elway said that the veteran was going to handled with care whether he was on the NFI list or not.

“We’ll continue to monitor what he’s done,” Elway said, via the Denver Post. “DeMarcus was somebody that was going to be very managed through the preseason anyway.”

Coach Gary Kubiak said that Ware’s moving in the right direction to be ready for the start of the regular season. Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett gives the Broncos options of players to match with Miller until Ware is back and options to limit Ware’s workload down the road.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Ed Reed AP

Bills assistant coach Ed Reed is developing a following.

A new defensive scheme should help the Dolphins create pass-rush.

The Patriots are hoping to build some continuity up front for whichever QB is on the field.

Jets QB Geno Smith was “this close” to being a starter again.

Ravens RB Justin Forsett isn’t interested in hearing about a committee.

The Bengals have some options in the return game.

The Browns latest QB competition can now begin.

Injuries could be the only thing keeping the Steelers from being Super Bowl favorites.

The Texans have some healthy CBs again.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s not looking back.

The Jaguars have former NFL RB Leon Washington among their summer coaching interns.

Titans DE Jurrell Casey is promising more Pro Bowls.

The Broncos are still in the process of determining which of owner Pat Bowlen’s children will take over the team.

Chiefs CB Phillip Gaines gets the first crack at replacing Sean Smith.

Raiders pass-rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have become fast friends.

The Chargers are still waiting to see rookie Joey Bosa, one of the last two unsigned draft picks.

Cowboys Hall of Famer Michael Irvin says he’s been bitten by the coaching bug.

New Giants coach Ben McAdoo needs to establish his voice quickly.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson isn’t worried about how young his LB corps is.

Washington QB Kirk Cousins can focus on football now that the time for finances has passed.

The Bears are displaying a new attitude already.

The Lions have spent the offseason fixing their lines.

Packers rookie WR Trevor Davis could be their next underground sensation.

Vikings RG Brandon Fusco is ready for a bounceback season.

The Falcons want to keep both their big-play RBs fresh.

The Panthers’ most experienced CB is starting training camp on PUP.

Saints S Jairus Byrd will finally begin training camp healthy.

Buccaneers RB Doug Martin is excited to build on last year.

The Cardinals refined their playbook without adding pages.

The Rams are paying $10 million to have training camp at UC Irvine for three years.

The 49ers have Torrey Smith and a bunch of question marks at wide receiver.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is the star of a corny poster.

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Terrell Suggs trying to be smart, but wants to be back on field soon

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens warms up before the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoffs game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs rarely holds back — as people who have been given nicknames like T-Sizzle are wont to do.

But while he promised he’d be back on the practice field soon following last year’s torn Achilles, there wasn’t so much of a firm timetable.

We’re close to where we want to be,” Suggs said , via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. “I’ll be honest with you: The Ravens side of me is like, ‘[F—] it, Sizz, let’s go. Let’s play some football.’ But I’ve got to be smart with it. I can’t be timid, but I’ve got to be smart.

“It won’t be long before I’ll be off of it and out there practicing with the guys.”

Suggs hadn’t talked to reporters there in nearly 11 months, after tearing his Achilles in the regular season opener. He’s on the physically unable to perform list now, but can be activated at any time.

And you can tell the 33-year-old Suggs is motivated to get going, to prove he can still play at a high level. But mostly he’s glad to be back with the team. He basically disappeared after the injury, but said it was for the best.

“It was just a sucky feeling. It was a sucky time for me,” Suggs said. “We didn’t start too good. It was just a really bad time. I didn’t want it to be about me that I was gone. It was kind of like, ‘Just let the smoke clear, and let everything happen.’ That’s what happened.”

The smoke never cleared for the Ravens last year after that injury (or the ones that followed which decimated the roster). And any bounce they get this year is going to be partly determined by whether they get the consistent pass-rush they’ve come to expect from Suggs.

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Packers applying pressure to Matthews, Peppers to submit to PED interviews

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 13: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears passes under pressure from Julius Peppers #56 and Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on September 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 31-23. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The impasse between the NFL and the NFL Players Association over the investigation regarding the Al Jazeera documentary containing allegations against four active NFL players lingers, with the league wanting to interview them, the union declining to make them available, and the league not yet saying, “The interview will occur at this specific time. Show up and cooperate or be punished for failure to do so.”

It’s unclear whether the league will make such an ultimatum. Behind the scenes, however, efforts are ongoing to persuade the players to comply. In Green Bay, for example, a league source tells PFT that some pressure is being applied by the Packers to linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to submit to the requested interviews.

There’s not much the team can do other than appeal to their desire to be exonerated, to avoid negative P.R., to get the matter behind them, and to minimize the possibility of a potential distraction. If the players are clean, it’s easy to argue that they should want to submit to the interviews so that the league eventually could issue a press release exonerating them, like the one issued earlier this week to exonerate Peyton Manning.

The NFLPA, which still harbors some lingering ill will toward Packers president and former player Mark Murphy from the CBA talks of 2011, nevertheless believes that allowing players to be interviewed based only on the recanted allegations of Charles Sly creates a bad precedent. The fact that the league ultimately regarded Sly’s allegations against Manning to be not credible makes it even more important to insist on something more than Sly’s shaky word before allowing the league to launch a fishing expedition aimed at getting them to say something that could be used against them.

For now, the active players have held firm. Even free-agent Mike Neal, who has linked his ongoing unemployment to the lingering cloud of PED suspicion, has not yielded. As long as they do, the ball will be in the NFL’s court — and the question will be whether the league wants to draw a line in the sand based on allegations from someone whom the league already has determined to be, as it related to Peyton Manning, not believable.

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Jarryd Hayne: If the NFL had a minor league I’d still be playing

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Rugby star Jarryd Hayne had never played American football when he left his Australian team in 2014 to try to make it in the NFL. Although he made it on the 49ers’ roster last year, he didn’t get a lot of playing time and quit football to go back to rugby this year.

Now Hayne is telling the NFL that if it wants to attract international talent like him, it needs a minor league.

“If there was a second division team where I could get those mental reps of being on the field, 100 per cent I’d go back to the NFL,” Hayne told the New Zealand Herald. “I’m at the end of my career where I really (have) just got to get on the field. I just want to be on the field. I’ve played eight games in two years. If I went back there to the NFL it’d be one of those things where I’d be a second or third string guy helping out but not really getting a lot of game time.”

The NFL tried, with NFL Europe, to have a minor league that would attract international attention. That experiment failed. And the NFL doesn’t really need a minor league because the NCAA does that for the NFL, without the NFL having to pay for it.

But the NFL might some day try some type of developmental league. It could be a way to get international talent like Hayne on the field.

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Dan Snyder pays for funeral of Redskins’ super fan “Chief Zee”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder stepped up to cover the funeral expenses of one of the team’s biggest supporters.

According to Carol Maloney of NBC 4 in Washington D.C., Snyder was the anonymous donor that paid for the funeral of Zema Williams, a.k.a. “Chief Zee.”

Williams, who passed away earlier this month, would attend games in full Native American-style headdresses while decked out in team colors.

Snyder isn’t exactly the most revered figure in the D.C. sports scene. The Redskins have won just one playoff games since Snyder assumed ownership of the franchise in 1999. He’s meddled with personnel decisions, had eight different head coaches in 17 years and been involved in several questionable lawsuits during his ownership of the team.

However, the gesture to cover the funeral costs of one of the team’s most visible fans is a nice one to make.

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Eric Berry may skip all of training camp, preseason

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 27:  Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs enters the field at Arrowhead Stadium during pre game against the Cleveland Browns on December 27, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the Chiefs not signing safety Eric Berry to a long-term deal before July 15, the franchise-tagged player remains without a contract. Under the terms of the tender, he can show up just a few days before the start of the regular season and still get the full amount of his $10.8 million salary.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Berry may do just that, skipping most if not all of training camp and the preseason, losing no money to fines but still getting the full $10.8 million salary.

The sole risk comes from the team’s ability to rescind the tag — something Chiefs coach Andy Reid did not once but twice during his time with the Eagles. Doing so would make Berry a free agent, and he would be hard pressed to get a deal on the open market that averages $10.8 million per year.

Under prior Collective Bargaining Agreements, the franchise tag for a given position was driven by the average of the five highest cap numbers in the prior year. Under the 2011 CBA, the tag is determined by the five-year average percentage of the overall cap that the franchise tag has consumed. With the growth of the cap outpacing in recent years the growth of the market at most positions, some franchise-tagged players — like Berry — instantly become the highest paid player at his position, albeit for only one year.

If the Chiefs would remove the tender, would another team pay Berry $10.8 million for 2016, or a multi-year deal averaging that much? Probably not.

It would be an unpopular move, to be sure. Berry has become a national inspiration given his recovery from cancer and his performance last season. But with Berry due to make more than any other safety and with the prospect of Berry showing up not fully prepared for Week One while still making $10.8 million, the Chiefs have to at least consider doing what Reid previously did with linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and defensive tackle Corey Simon.

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Browns OLB Armonty Bryant pleads guilty to drug charge

Cleveland Browns v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Armonty Bryant pleaded guilty on Wednesday to lesser charges stemming from an arrest last December.

According to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, Bryant pleaded guilty to attempted drug possession – a first-degree misdemeanor – after being initially indicted on two charges of felony drug possession.

Bryant had pleaded not guilty to the prior two charges back in February.

Bryant has already been suspended for the first four games of the season due to violations of the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Further discipline could be levied from the league for his guilty plea in this case. Per Ulrich, a league spokesman said the incident “will be reviewed under our policies.”

Bryant appeared in 14 games for Cleveland last season and finished the year with 5.5 sacks.

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“Bronco for life” Von Miller says everything is back to normal

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 13:  Outside linebacker Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos performs a "dab" pose as he is introduced during player introductions before a game against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 13, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the dust settled on his record-setting six-year, $114.5 million contract, Broncos linebacker Von Miller met with reporters on Wednesday in conjunction with the opening of training camp. Less than two weeks after the protracted negotiations ended, Miller provided an assessment of the situation.

“It’s back to normal,” Miller said, via comments distributed by the team. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to go play football. I talked to John [Elway] this morning and I told him that I get to play with [receiver Demaryius Thomas] for about nine years. I get to play with [cornerback] Chris [Harris Jr.] for 9-10 years so that’s some of the stuff that I’m excited about. I’m aware of the expectations, but we have high expectations for all of us. I’m ready to get back to work and contribute to the locker room, the same stuff that I’ve been doing.”

On several occasions, Miller reiterated his sentiment from the day the contract was signed — that he’s a Bronco “for life.” But it’s really not a “for life” arrangement. Even under the interpretation of Miller’s deal from those who negotiated it, the commitment may be as little as four years. The Broncos think the minimum duration is only three years.

Miller has played five years; unless he plans to retire after only eight or nine seasons, there’s a chance he’ll eventually be playing somewhere else.

For now, though, all is well.

“Everything is great,” Miller said of his relationship with Elway, whose negotiating tactics at times privately angered Miller. “Everybody know the type of respect that I have for Mr. Elway. I was his first draft pick here. We’ve always had talks. Not only this year, but my first year, my third year, my fourth year; all of the way up until this point. I don’t expect anything to change.”

Will Miller be in shape after skipping the entire offseason program?

“I never got too far away from working out or grinding,” Miller said. “I worked the same as I would during the season or during the offseason. I just had a lot of stuff in between to do, but I feel that I’m in shape. We got a great strength and conditioning staff with Luke Richesson. I’m going to follow their lead. They got me to this point to where I am now. I feel totally confident in my ability to get back on the football field.”

Despite a contract that makes him the highest paid player on the team by far, Miller resisted the notion that he’s the face of the franchise.

“I feel like our locker room should be the face of this franchise,” Miller said. “We got a great locker room. There’s not a locker room like this in the National Football League. Talking to the guys in the locker room that have come from other teams, that’s the first thing they say, that, this locker room is ‘second-to-none’ type of camaraderie that we have in the locker room. The leadership that we have, you just don’t get in the National Football League so that will be the strength of our football team and I’m a part of that.”

Miller definitely will be part of that for at least the next three or four years. And the pressure will be on him more than any other player to chase down and secure about Lombardi Trophy or two.

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Report: No NFL interview scheduled with James Harrison

John Brown, James Harrison

The NFL has not scheduled an interview with Steelers linebacker James Harrison regarding the Al Jazeera report accusing him of using performance-enhancing drugs, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday.

Harrison had posted a letter on social media from the NFL last month that informed him an interview would take place July 28, the first day the Steelers report to training camp. But the Post-Gazette story quotes NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis as saying no interview is scheduled to take place.

Earlier this month Harrison provided a sworn affidavit in which he denied any wrongdoing and any charges brought about by the Al Jazeera report.

The NFL had said it still wanted to talk with Harrison and other players named in the report, and Harrison originally said he’d love to talk with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — if Goodell came to Harrison’s house for the interview.

Retired quarterback Peyton Manning, one of the players named in the report, cooperated with investigators and was recently cleared of any wrongdoing.

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