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The Gruden leverage game accelerates

New Orleans Saints v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Next week, when the Panthers and Eagles prepare to square off on Monday Night Football, one of the guys from the ESPN broadcast team eventually could end up being a candidate to coach either of the teams that will be playing.

Awkward.

Indeed, on a night when Eagles fans will be loudly and continuously calling for the ouster of Andy Reid, they also will be welcoming Gruden back to Philly with pleas that he return to the franchise where he served as offensive coordinator before Reid was hired to serve as head coach.  It will make for an interesting production meeting between the pair of former Packers assistant coaches, and every word Gruden utters from the booth will be parsed for clues as to what he plans to do.

Actually, anything and everything he says — and doesn’t say — over the balance of the season should be regarded that way.  With reports mounting that Gruden is preparing a return to coaching, the public silence from Gruden regarding his plans speaks volumes.

The latest report, which gives no credit to the pre-existing reports, comes from CBS, and it expands the Gruden universe to include college jobs at Arkansas and Tennessee.  Which means that Gruden’s agent, Bob LaMonte, is trying to ensure the best possible terms for a Gruden return, both from a cash and power and quality-of-program standpoint.

That’s why Gruden has pulled punches over the last few years from the broadcast booth.  He knows that, when he finally returns, maximum options will lead to maximum leverage, which will allow him to pick the best situation — with the ability to win and get paid a ton of money and have a lot of power all rolled in to one big giant of mojo.

Until Gruden says that he’s not returning, the presumption should be that he is.  And the coaches of the teams he’ll visit for the remaining MNF games should be understandably leery.

After all, they could be competing with Gruden before too long.

If it ever becomes a problem, ESPN can announce another exclusive contract extension with Gruden, while continuing to refuse to elaborate on whether the exclusivity means he can’t leave the four-letter network for a job in a three-letter football league.

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Luck, Allen post big numbers; Colts overwhelming Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05:  Dwayne Allen #83 celebrates his second touchdown in the first quarter against the New York Jets with teammate  Phillip Dorsett #15 of the Indianapolis Colts during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets were no match for Colts in the first half Monday night.

Andrew Luck threw three touchdown passes to tight end Dwayne Allen — yes, three — and the Colts have a 24-3 halftime lead.

Luck and Allen connected for touchdowns on the Colts’ first two drives. The Colts thought they had another touchdown late in the half but tight end Jack Doyle was ruled to have fumbled into and through the end zone for a touchback.

That is about all that went right for the Jets, who had three personal foul penalties in the first 20 minutes.

At halftime, Luck has 179 yards passing. Allen has three catches for 51 yards and T.Y. Hilton has six catches for 98 yards. The Jets have managed just 116 total yards and five first downs.

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Frank Gore becomes NFL’s 8th all-time leading rusher

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 04:  Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts running back Frank Gore has passed Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett for eighth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.

Dorsett posted 12,739 rushing yards in his career. Gore surpassed that in the second quarter Monday night vs. the Jets when he got loose into the Jets’ secondary for a 19-yard run that led to a field goal.

Gore, 33, has played in 176 games over his 12-year career. He’s in his second year with the Colts.

Gore went over 1,000 yards rushing in seven of his 10 seasons with the 49ers, who drafted him in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He has 74 career rushing touchdowns, which ties him for 24th in league history.

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Approaching all-time loss record, Jeff Fisher opts for optimism

Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) AP

On Sunday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher celebrated a new contract. As soon as next Sunday, he could be celebrating a new record.

Fisher, will one more loss, ties the record for the most in NFL history. He’ll match Dan Reeves with 165.

Is it tough to be one game away from the record?

“No, I actually don’t look at that,” Fisher told reporters on Monday. “I’ve had a few wins in my career, as well. I’ve also been able to be very, very fortunate and have a long career. You can look at it as is the glass half full or half empty – I look at it as half full. I’m just honored that I still have an opportunity to coach in this league.”

His opportunity will continue for a couple more years, if he is permitted to work the full extent of his extension.

“The players were, by and large, really, really excited,” Fisher said regarding the news of the new deal. “But I think a lot of players knew that this had been done previously. So, it didn’t appear to be a big deal. I spoke candidly about it yesterday. I don’t think I need to go into it again. We’re moving on.”

As the franchise moves on, Fisher was asked to explain where the franchise currently is.

“Coaches, we don’t like making excuses, we just move on from week to week to week,” Fisher said. “We didn’t have [defensive end] Rob Quinn yesterday, we didn’t have [receiver] Tavon Austin, we didn’t have [offensive lineman] Rodger Saffold yesterday and we played the New England Patriots. If you’re going to have a chance to beat them, you need to go in there with all hands on deck. We’re building this team, we’ve extended players, we’re building this team for the future, we’ve made a commitment to our young quarterback and he’s playing now. In my opinion, I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about.”

Fans may disagree, especially those who are following a certain pied piper named Eric Dickerson.

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Luck hits Allen, again, as Colts go up 14-0

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:   Dwayne Allen #83 of the Indianapolis Colts is tackled by Bacarri Rambo #30 of the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dwayne Allen was wide open. Again.

The Jets can’t cover Allen — or anyone else in a Colts jersey — and the Colts are out to a 14-0 lead on a pair of Andrew Luck touchdown passes to Allen.

Luck is 6-of-6 passing for 93 yards and two touchdowns on two drives. Not many Jets fans showed up to MetLife Stadium, but the ones who did aren’t happy. And there’s a lot of game left.

If the Colts win they’ll move to 6-6 and force a three-way tie with the Texans and Titans atop the AFC South.

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Jets not doing much right early

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on against the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets provided little resistance as the Colts took their first possession Monday night for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.

Andrew Luck threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dwayne Allen as the Colts took the lead. Luck froze the defense — first with a play-fake, then with his eyes — on the touchdown pass.

Luck targeted Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and twice completed passes to T.Y. Hilton on the drive.

The Jets went three and out on their first two possessions to start the game. The few fans at MetLife Stadium aren’t happy.

If the Colts win they’ll move to 6-6 and force a three-way tie with the Texans and Titans atop the AFC South.

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One day later, Earl Thomas still unsure about his football future

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Teammates help free safety Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks off the field after getting injured against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

After Sunday night’s 40-7 win over the Panthers, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson learned that safety Earl Thomas had broken his leg during the game. Wilson also learned that Thomas already had mused on Twitter about retiring.

Wilson brushed off the retirement talk as Thomas reacting in the heat of the moment. A day later, however, Thomas is singing the same tune.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” Thomas told Ed Werder of ESPN. “I still feel the same way I felt last night.”

Thomas also said that he doesn’t plan to have surgery, and that he doesn’t want to take away from what his team is trying to do.

“You have to remember my team is still fighting I don’t want to become a distraction,” Thomas said.

Thomas may feel differently as days become weeks and weeks become months. By the time the offseason program begins, he may be itching for more action.

If Thomas retires, he’d owe the Seahawks $3.8 million in bonus money previously paid, if they’d be inclined to pursue it.

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Bears officially place Cutler on IR

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after the Bears scored against the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on November 26, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears on Monday officially placed quarterback Jay Cutler on the season-ending injured-reserve list.

Cutler has been out since Nov. 20, when he suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. With Brian Hoyer also out, Matt Barkley has started the last two games at quarterback.

Placing Cutler on IR opened a roster spot for cornerback Johnthan Banks, who was claimed via waivers from the Lions.

The Bears also waived linebacker Lamin Barrow from IR and made a practice squad swap, adding wide receiver Bralon Addison and releasing quarterback Josh Woodrum from the practice squad.

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Catapano, Miles to start as injury replacements for Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 11: Marqise Lee #11 of the Jacksonville Jaguars is tackled by Rontez Miles #45 and Marcus Williams #20 of the New York Jets in an NFL preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Safety Rontez Miles and linebacker Mike Catapano are in the starting lineup for the Jets Monday night vs. the Colts.

Miles replaces Calvin Pryor, who has a concussion, and Catapano replaces Lorenzo Mauldin, who is out with an ankle injury. The Jets had also previously listed wide receiver and return man Jalin Marshall as out with a concussion. Jeremy Ross, who just signed with the Jets last week, is expected to handle the return duties.

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, both of whom had been listed as questionable, are active and in the starting lineup.

The Colts had previously listed three defensive starters — defensive end Robert Mathis, safety Clayton Geathers and cornerback Patrick Robinson — as out. The Jets had also previously ruled nose tackle Steve McLendon out.

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Eli on Odell: He needs to kill officials with kindness

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Don Wright) AP

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham proposed that referee Terry McAulay and his crew be banned from ever working games played by the Giants after Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, which you probably won’t be surprised to learn was not the approach head coach Ben McAdoo endorsed on Monday.

McAdoo seemed to agree with Beckham that Sunday’s crew missed some calls on the Steelers, who still wound up with 12 accepted penalties against them to four for the Giants, but said he planned to use the usual avenue of requesting clarification from the league office about them.

“I would say that I thought there were a few times yesterday where he may have been interfered with,” McAdoo said on a conference call. “But that’s part of the process. We’re going to send it in to New York and to the officials, and let them take a look at it, and get some feedback from it, some clarification.”

While the Giants are trying to get more information from the league, Beckham’s quarterback offered his thoughts on another avenue that the wideout might take. Eli Manning believes a spoonful of sugar would be a good route.

“He’s got to be careful. With officials, you want to kill them with kindness,” Manning said with Mike Francesa on WFAN, via Tom Rock of Newsday. “He’s gotta learn to be a good guy and warm up to those guys to get some calls.”

We’ll see if Beckham decides to use a smile as an umbrella the next time he feels caught in an officiating storm.

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NFL reverses course, will allow Titans and Browns players to wear special cleats

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23:  A view of the cleats worn by Mohamed Sanu #12 of the Atlanta Falcons during pregame warmups prior to facing the San Diego Chargers at Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Titans and Browns didn’t play in Week 13, so they didn’t get to participate in the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” weekend. Players across the league were allowed to wear special cleats that didn’t conform to the league’s usual uniform rules in support of various causes and endeavors.

The NFL has come to its senses and reversed course regarding the Browns and Titans. NFL Senior Vice President of Communications Natalie Ravitz said Monday that the league reached out to both teams to confirm they could participate in Week 14, when the Browns host the Bengals and the Titans host the Broncos.

The NFL originally said that players from those teams wouldn’t be exempt from the usual uniform rules, and at least two Titans players had reportedly planned to risk the fine and wear their special cleats anyway.

So, this solution seems best. And makes you wonder why it took so long to get here.

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Carroll confirms Thomas done for season

Earl Thomas Getty Images

Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll told reporters Monday that safety Earl Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a fractured tibia.

Carroll said the injury was confirmed Monday and that any timetable for a potential return extends past the remaining weeks this season. Thomas was injured in a collision with teammate Kam Chancellor during Sunday night’s win over the Panthers and tweeted from the locker room that he was contemplating retirement.

Thomas, who’s one of the NFL’s best at his position, had played in 106 consecutive games before a hamstring injury kept him out two weeks ago.

Steven Terrell came in to replace Thomas following the injury. Carroll said Monday that Tyvis Powell, Kelcie McCray and Dewey McDonald are all in the mix at safety behind Terrell.

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Two Titans plan to risk NFL fines and wear special cleats

Delanie Walker, D'Qwell Jackson AP

The NFL allowed players around the NFL to wear special cleats with personal messages on them on Sunday, but players on the Browns and Titans were excluded because they’re on their bye this week. And the NFL told players on those two teams that they won’t be allowed to wear special cleats on a different day.

Two Titans players say they’re going to go ahead and promote their causes with their cleats, no matter what the NFL thinks.

Titans cornerback Jason McCourty and tight end Delanie Walker both told Paul Kuharsky of ESPN that they will wear their cleats for this week’s game. McCourty will wear the same shoe design that his brother, Patriots safety Devin McCourty, wore on Sunday to promote awareness of sickle cell disease.

“I believe you should be [allowed], so I’ll be wearing mine for the game,” McCourty said.

Walker, whose aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver in New Orleans hours after they watched him play in Super Bowl XLVII, will wear cleats that promote Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

In the NFL, players who refuse to follow uniform policy always risk fines. In this case, the NFL would be wise to give the players a break. And next year, it would make more sense to do “My Cause, My Cleats” in a week when every team plays.

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Chargers, Raiders geographic futures likely to be decided soon

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12:  Fans practice during 2016 World Chess Championship at Fulton Market Building on November 12, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Agon Limited) Getty Images

As the Chargers flirt with the possibility of moving to Los Angeles and the Raiders flirt with the probability of moving to Las Vegas, the future geographic locations of the two teams will quickly become, as one source with knowledge of the dynamics recently told PFT, a “game of four-dimensional chess.”

The Chargers have the more immediate deadline, given their ability through January 15 to strike a deal with the Rams to share space in Inglewood. Previously, Commissioner Roger Goodell was believed to be “fixated” on keeping the Chargers in San Diego. In recent weeks, however, there’s a sense his stance is softening.

His stance may be softening due to the realities of the situation. With no public money available in San Diego and no chance of even trying to change that until the elections of 2018 or 2020, the Chargers will be spinning their wheels if they stay put.

The Chargers also will likely lose money if they don’t move. In 2015, the uncertainty over a potential relocation helped the team have its best year ever in local revenue, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The renewed embrace of the team came from the uncertainty regarding a move. In 2016, the numbers are down — and the team expects the trend to continue if the franchise adopts year-to-year status in San Diego.

The possibility floated here last week of Rams owner Stan Kroenke kicking in cash to keep the Chargers out of L.A. and to help them build a new stadium in San Diego ultimately isn’t practical, for two reasons. First, it would take about $500 million to bridge the gap between the contribution from the Chargers and the NFL and the full stadium costs. Second, if the Chargers decide to stay in San Diego, the Raiders then would acquire the right to go to Los Angeles.

Yes, Raiders owner Mark Davis wants to move to Las Vegas. But, as one source explained it, the Los Angeles deal actually would be better for the Raiders than the Las Vegas deal. It also would potentially make the Raiders the prime draw in L.A., relegating the Rams to red-headed stepchild status.

These dynamics make it more likely the Chargers will move to L.A. As one source explained it, Kroenke has offered a fair deal to the Chargers. While the upside from local revenues are limited, the Chargers also aren’t required to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to build their own stadium, along with assuming the risks of cost overruns. Coupled with the increased value of the franchise after the move, an L.A. relocation makes a lot of sense.

So if the Chargers go to L.A., the Raiders will be left with staying in Oakland or moving to Las Vegas. Oakland won’t be a viable option unless and until there’s a real proposal that doesn’t entail Davis selling any of the team. Even then, his mind seems to be firmly made up — and it won’t be easy to change it at this point.

However it plays out, it’s all going to play out soon, with a seismic shift potentially coming to California’s NFL teams very, very soon.

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Bears claim Johnthan Banks

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 21: Wide receiver Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers catches a pass over defender cornerback Johnthan Banks #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on December 21, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears claimed cornerback Johnthan Banks via waivers on Monday.

The Lions waived Banks over the weekend. A second-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2013, Banks was traded by the Bucs to the Lions in early November.

Banks, 27, had played in two games for the Lions. He was a starter for his first two seasons with the Bucs but had fallen out of the rotation last season and did not start a game this season before the trade.

Banks had seven interceptions over his first two seasons with the Bucs. He’s started 37 of 52 career games.

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Redskins cut Dashaun Phillips

Washington Redskins defensive back Dashaun Phillips (35) picks up the fumble by Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) during the second half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP

A few days after calling him up from the practice squad, the Redskins cut cornerback Dashaun Phillips on Monday.

Phillips started two games in September and opened the season as the team’s top nickel cornerback but he was benched, then released in mid-November before being added back to the practice squad.

Phillips also played in six games last year for the Redskins. This season, he hadn’t played in a game since September and was inactive for Sunday’s game at Arizona.

No corresponding roster move was announced, but offensive tackle Trent Williams is eligible to return this week from suspension.

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