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Chris Johnson proving he has value, to Titans or others

Jake Locker, Chris Johnson AP

The Titans have a big decision to make on Chris Johnson next spring.

But the way he’s running lately, he’s proving he has value to others, even if the Titans don’t want to continue to pay him.

Johnson has overcome a slow start by averaging 117 yards per game since Week Four, making obvious that he still has something to offer.

“It’s something I don’t try and think about a lot, but it pops into my head and you know there have been things said or whatever,” Johnson said, via Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean. “But it is a situation where if I am here I’ll continue to do what I do, and if I’m not, I’m sure there are 31 other teams out there that would love to have me.”

Of his $10 million in 2013 salary, $9 million becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the league’s waiver period. When he was slow out of the gate, the Titans writing that check might have seemed a long shot, though he’s tried to block it out of his mind.

“When you get the big contract and stuff … people expect you to go for 2,000 yards every year,” Johnson said. “I am sure whatever my number is at the end of the year, people are still going to have things to say that I didn’t go over 2,000 yards or whatever.

“It’s a situation where you really can’t buy into that. You just sort of have to block those things out and do what you have to do.”

Johnson has 862 rushing yards so far, which is on pace for the second-highest total of his career. When the high is a 2,006-yard season, that’s not bad.

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Eagles excuse Keelan Johnson from camp after arrest

keelanjohnson

When Riley Cooper made headlines for a videotaped racial slur just before camp last year, the Eagles sent him away for a few days until things cooled down.

They’re likewise parking safety Keelan Johnson.

The team announced that they have excused Johnson “for an undetermined amount of time as he tends to matters related to his arrest in Arizona last weekend.”

Johnson met with coach Chip Kelly, and is still on the roster, and the team’s not saying anything else.

Johnson was arrested in Arizona for assaulting a police officer.

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James Brown says Washington should “do the right thing and change the name”

Brown Getty Images

CBS has given its announcers the green light to apply the red light to the use of the Washington team name.  It sounds like NFL Today and Thursday Night Football host James Brown could be taking Les Moonves up on his offer.

“I firmly believe that this is a people issue,” Brown said at a CBS News symposium, via Scott Allen of the Washington Post.  “If, in fact — to me, this is my opinion only, not representing CBS Sports, or News — if the name is offensive to a group of people, then do the right thing and change the name. It’s as simple as that.”

Brown doesn’t buy one of the strongest arguments for keeping the name:  That the name has been in place for more than 80 years.

“Yeah, well, the civil rights issue was one where ‘that’s just the way it was’ for a long period of time, right?  So that holds no basis and substance to me. Do the right thing,” Brown said.

“You know, a number of years ago, when I was a kid, there was a restaurant chain called Sambo’s, which, as I understand was the last name of two guys who owned the restaurant chain.  But it was offensive to black people, so they changed the name, except for the one franchise in California I believe it was.  Well, so, if in fact it’s offensive to Native Americans — and there doesn’t have to be unanimity on this, and don’t just have a intractable attitude saying, ‘I’m not going to change’ — that’s wrong as far as I’m concerned.  I’ll get in trouble with that, but I stand on principle.”

Brown’s principle will be tested at least once this season, when Washington hosts the Giants on Thursday, September 25.  There’s also a 50-percent chance that the Philly-Washington game on Saturday, December 20 will be played in prime time, with Brown serving as the studio host.

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Belichick doesn’t get the NFL’s emphasis on certain rules

belichickref AP

Every offseason the NFL tells its officials about certain rules that will be emphasized that season — rules that haven’t actually changed, but that the league thinks officials need to call more strictly, or more consistently. Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t like that.

Belichick says that if the NFL is changing a rule, it makes sense to make sure every official is clear on what the new rule is. But Belichick says there’s no need to place an emphasis on a particular rule because the officials should always be enforcing every rule consistently.

“If it’s a clear-cut rule that’s going to change — the kickoffs from the 30 [yard line] to the 35 — that’s pretty cut and dried,” Belichick said, via CSNNE.com. “But if it’s a rule that maybe has some gray area, or a rule that’s not a rule change, which is pretty common — you know, the league does this every year [when] it doesn’t change the rule, it says ‘we’re just going to emphasize it differently.’ Well I don’t really know what that means. We’ve tried to play by the rules from the beginning. We’re trying to play within the rules, but now they’re saying we’re going to emphasize the rule differently and I don’t really know what that means.”

Belichick sees players having to figure out on a game-by-game basis whether the officials are going to call a lot of penalties or not, and he doesn’t think that should be the case.

“We go out there and basically try to play the same every week,” Belichick said. “It’s not like we change our techniques or any other team does. We’ll see a game one week that has 19 penalties, and then the next week you’ll see a game that has eight penalties. Is one team fouling a lot more? Or is it being called a little bit differently? I don’t know. I think some of that is just — we see it in all sports, I’m not just singling out football. Some of it is just, as the game gets going, just understanding this is going to be called tight or they’re gonna kind of let them play today. It’s a little bit of figuring out on their own.”

Belichick knows first-hand about how changing the emphasis on a rule can change the way the game is played. After the Colts complained that their receivers were getting mugged by Belichick’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, the NFL emphasized illegal contact penalties with its officials, and those penalties dramatically increased the next season — even though the rule hadn’t changed. Belichick thinks that if the rule stays the same, the enforcement should stay the same, every game and every season.

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NFLPA again blames lack of HGH testing on the NFL

HGH AP

With training camps opening for the fourth time since the NFL and NFLPA agreed to conduct HGH testing, the NFL and the NFLPA have still not implemented HGH testing.

In a letter sent to all players, a copy of which PFT has obtained from a league source, the NFLPA blames the lack of testing on the NFL’s ongoing refusal to “commit to fair due process for players who choose to appeal NFL discipline for alleged drug policies violations.”  That refers to the lingering impasse regarding whether the Commissioner will handle the appeals of discipline imposed for violations of the PED and HGH policy arising from something other than a positive test.  The union wants the league to extend its willingness to conduct third-party arbitration of positive PED and HGH test results to violations arising from proof of PED or HGH use coming from, for example, a BALCO or Biogenesis-style scandal.

“Players deserve a fair system, similar to Major League Baseball’s, which includes neutral arbitration for all alleged offenses of our drug policies,” the letter explains.  “Currently, the NFL has agreed to neutral arbitration for appeals based on an alleged any positive drug test, but the Commissioner wants to act as the arbitrator in the cases where a violation of the policies is not based on a positive tests (e.g., a violation of law involving banned substances or where NFL believes there is material evidence of a violation of law involving banned substances.)  Our union is committed to a fair, clean and safe game, but we are also committed to protecting your rights.”

The letter also points out that, because of the disagreement regarding appeal rights, the plug has remain pulled on a population study for determining the normal HGH concentration of NFL players, which then will help determine the permissible limits of HGH in player bodies.  Everything else is ready to go.

“[T]he Players and NFL have agreed to hGH testing, including the storage, analysis, timing, and ultimate destruction of blood tests,” the letter states.

But HGH testing still isn’t happening, because the two sides can’t resolve the question of whether violations unrelated to positive tests will stay on the Commissioner’s desk both for the punishment and for the appeal.  “[W]e are on the verge of another year without a safer and cleaner game,” the union writes.

If the NFL wants HGH testing as badly as it claims to, why not yield on that last point or at least come up with a fair compromise?  While the same argument could be turned against the union, the NFL already has agreed to third-party arbitration for the far more common circumstance of positive test results.  What’s wrong with using a neutral third party for all PED and HGH violations?

Meanwhile, the players continue to be on the honor system when it comes to using HGH, which means that they can use it as long as they don’t get caught up in a BALCO or Biogenesis-style scandal.  Coincidentally (or not), high school students are using more HGH.

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Dolphins replacing Pouncey with a guy who’s never snapped

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With Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey likely out an extended part of the regular season and the fallout of last year’s bullying scandal, the Dolphins figure to start a brand new offensive line this year.

So why not go build around a guy who has never done his particular job?

According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are going with free agent pickup Shelley Smith as their starting center.

But Smith said he’s never played center at any level.

He’s started eight games in the NFL, all at guard.

At a certain level, it’s not that big of a change for a competent lineman. But springing it on him just before training camp almost makes it appear it wasn’t a fully developed plan.

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Muhammad Wilkerson: I’m underpaid, but that’s part of the business

Muhammad Wilkerson AP

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is one of the top players at his position in the NFL, but he isn’t paid like it.

Wilkerson is set to make $1.2 million this year and the team has already exercised their option for 2015, which is worth just under $7 million. They could then conceivably use the franchise tag on Wilkerson for the 2016 season and spend a little more than $21 million for the next three years of Wilkerson’s service, something that would be a tremendous bargain if Wilkerson remains as productive as he’s been through his first three seasons.

Wilkerson is aware of that, but says he’s “a patient man” who wants to stay with the Jets and who believes that a contract more in line with his play will come.

“Do I feel that I’m underpaid right now? Yeah,” Wilkerson said, via the New York Daily News. “But that’s part of the business. My time will come when I get a new contract. But right now I’m just worried about becoming a better player, a better teammate and a better leader.”

Wilkerson is part of the first group of first-round picks to have the fifth-year options included in their rookie deals and it will be interesting to see how teams handle extensions for those players over the next year. With the players essentially tied to the teams for two more seasons, there’s not much urgency to get an extension done although teams like the Jets have to balance that with the potential benefits of sending the message that players that perform well for the team will see their work rewarded.

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Judge rejects Hernandez motion to dismiss Odin Lloyd murder charges

Hernandez AP

Behind bars for more than a year as he awaits trial for the murder of Odin Lloyd, Hernandez will remain in jail a little longer. Or a lot longer.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Susan Garsh has denied a motion to dismiss the charge.

She concluded that probable cause exists based on the evidence to believe that Hernandez killed Lloyd, and that circumstantial evidence is sufficient to convict Hernandez. The case against the former Patriots tight end lacks a murder weapon, and there is no reliable, first-person evidence of Hernandez pulling the trigger or even being present when the trigger was pulled.

The motion also attacked lack of evidence of a clear motive, but the judge ruled that evidence of motive isn’t need to prove that Hernandez committed the murder.

Even if the charge had been dismissed, Hernandez would have remained in jail pending trial for the July 2012 murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

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Ravens sign Will Hill, because of course they do

New York Giants v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Ravens led the NFL in offseason arrests, and have become pariahs in the last 24 hours for the too-lenient league punishment for wife-beating running back Ray Rice.

So naturally, they signed a guy who is currently serving a league suspension.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens have signed former Giants safety Will Hill.

Hill was suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, after previously being suspended for both the PED and substance abuse policies.

Why they would choose to take on such a project right now is a question that will be pondered in public relations classes for the future, but they’re clearing rolling the dice on being able to tap into the ability that the Giants got tired of waiting for.

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Derrick Brooks replaces Matt Birk as appeals officer

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With former NFL center Matt Birk take a spot in the league office, an important vacancy arose.  It’ll be filled with a guy who’ll soon take a spot in the Hall of Fame.

The league has announced that Derrick Brooks will replace Birk as one of the two hearing officers for the appeal of on-field fines.

“Derrick views this game with a very unique understanding as both a player and a team president,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said, referring to Brooks’ tenure as president of the AFL’s Tampa Bay Storm. “His review of appeals will be informed by experience as a player and as an executive.”

“Derrick was jointly selected by the Players and the NFL and we expect he will bring expertise and professionalism to his role as an arbitration officer,” NFLPA Senior Director of Player Affairs and Development Jason Besler said. “We look forward to working with him.”

Brooks and Ted Cottrell will handle the appeals of fines and suspensions arising from illegal hits and other on-field misconduct. They will be jointly paid by the NFL and the NFLPA, making it much different than the usual judge-jury-executioner approach the NFL applies to discipline.

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Steelers intend to address Roethlisberger’s contract after season

Ben Roethlisberger AP

There were smatterings of discussion about an extension for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is signed through the 2015 season with cap hits of $18.895 million and $18.595 million, but nothing wound up happening on that front.

That’s not because the Steelers lack interest in keeping Roethlisberger around, however. Steelers president Art Rooney II said that he spoke with Roethlisberger before the team announced the extension for center Maurkice Pouncey to be sure that the quarterback knew where the team stood in regard to continuing a relationship that has netted the team a pair of Super Bowl victories.

“And so I talked to Ben, and then we talked with his agent Ryan Tollner about where we are and the fact we intend on addressing Ben’s contract situation after the season, so that we could address a number of players who were going into their last year in 2014,” Rooney said, via the team’s website. “I think Ben understands that’s our intention and the way we’d like to proceed. I think we had a good conversation.”

Rooney said that the fact that the cap is expected to go up again next season played a role in the team’s thinking as they’ll have more room to deal with Roethlisberger’s contract after being in a tough cap situation this offseason. It will be a while before there’s more discussion of Roethlisberger’s contract, but it should be one of the bigger stories of the next Pittsburgh offseason.

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Panthers hoping to find a left tackle among in-house guys

Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Panthers clean slate at wide receiver has gotten more attention, but the bigger issue this year will be who ends up starting at tackle, and whether that person can keep Cam Newton upright.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera is confident he’s going to find an answer among what is on hand.

Via the Charlotte Observer, Rivera said he expects to find a left tackle among existing options Byron Bell, Nate Chandler and Garry Williams.

 

“We think those three guys give us an opportunity to find a starter out of that group,” Rivera said. “But it most certainly is going to be a competitive position. It will be one we will watch for obvious reasons.”

Bell has started at right tackle the last three years, but wasn’t particularly good at it. Chandler is a converted defensive tackle, who they signed to a cheap contract extension betting on his upside. Williams keeps getting hurt every time they give him a chance to win the job.

In short, they’re going to miss the retired Jordan Gross, regardless who ends up starting there. The top tackles were gone long before they picked in the first round. They inquired about free agent Anthony Collins before he signed with the Buccaneers, but they were otherwise limited in what they could do to fix the line.

Now they’ll go to camp, and wait, and hope.

 

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Andre Johnson received “some comfort” on his future security

Miami Dolphins v Houston Texans Getty Images

Texans receiver Andre Johnson showed up for training camp without anything more than (most likely) a waiver of the $70,000 in fines he racked up for missing a mandatory minicamp.  So why did he do it?

For starters, he surely didn’t want to lose any more money, after squandering a $1 million roster bonus by staying away from the offseason program.

Per a source with direct knowledge of the situation, “[Johnson] reported after getting some comfort on direction and comfort on his future security.  He got a strong word from ownership that his future is strongly secure.”

That comfort came from communications with the team.  Via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, those communications included a meeting last Friday with owner Bob McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, and G.M. Rick Smith.

While none of that is legally binding, it suggests that Johnson will get all or most of his $11.5 million in 2014, even though the salary carries with it a $16.1 million cap number, due in large part to past team-friendly restructurings.  And even though the Texans could still renege on whatever “comfort” he was provided regarding his future security, it would send a horrible message to the rest of the locker room.

Johnson also feels confident that the team isn’t rebuilding.  Whether he feels that way after the season depends largely on how the season goes.

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EverBank extends Jacksonville naming rights deal through 2024

EverBank Getty Images

As the Jaguars prepare to unveil gigantic new video boards, they’re renewing their vows with an existing sponsor.

Via the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars will announce on Friday a deal with EverBank that will keep the financial institution’s name on the stadium where the team plays through 2024.

Technically, it’s a 10-year extension to the five-year, $16.6 million contract signed in 2010.  The average value of the new deal is expected to exceed the $3.32 million per year average of the current contract.

It’ll possibly need to go up a lot for the Jaguars to see a net gain.  Jacksonville agreed to sacrifice its right to 25 percent of the money under the first contract.  The Jaguars will have to negotiate that term all over again in the new deal.

The Jaguars quietly have surged in the local market since the sale of the team from Wayne Weaver to Shad Khan.  Rumors of relocation have subsided if not disappeared, even though the team currently plays one game per year in London.  Ticket sales are up, the team is improving, and a solid front office and coaching staff are in place, with Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley leading the way.

Throw in a weak AFC South, and the Jags could make a run at their first playoff berth since 2007.

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It seems Mike Shanahan didn’t have fun in Washington

Redskins Camp Football AP

For a guy who went 24-40 in his last job, including a 3-13 dumpster fire which included alienating the franchise quarterback, Mike Shanahan is kind of picky.

The former Redskins coach told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that he wanted to coach again, but only if things are just right.

“If I get back into coaching, it would have to be a situation where there was a realistic opportunity to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said.

Beyond that shot, Shanahan’s thoughts for future employment shines some light on how dysfunctional things might have been with the Redskins.

Asked about quarterback Robert Griffin III, he said: “I’m not going down that road. I’m going to let that play itself out. We’ll see as time goes on.”

He also said he’d like a team with salary cap room, which is something he didn’t enjoy in Washington thanks to their penalty for circumventing the salary cap in 2010.

“It would have to be with the right ownership,” Shanahan added, a not-at-all-veiled shot at his old boss Dan Snyder.

He also mentioned working for Pat Bowlen, who fired him from the Broncos in 2008, saying: “He let you do your job. Every resource that he had, he’d give it to you.”

When he puts it like that, it’s almost like things in Washington last year were exactly as bad as they looked from the outside.

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Sam Bradford is “full-go” for camp

Sam Bradford AP

The Rams hold their first practice of training camp on Friday and there won’t be any restrictions on quarterback Sam Bradford when they do.

Bradford is coming off a torn ACL, but coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that there wouldn’t be any limits on the quarterback during practice.

“Sam is in great shape,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s ready to go. We don’t have [reservations] — right now as we speak, as camp starts — he’s full-go. If we need to back him down here and there, we’ll back him down.”

One place where the Rams might back Bradford down will be in the first preseason game, which Fisher suggested would go on without the starting quarterback while also saying that Bradford would see preseason action. Whatever action he does see, Bradford will need to use it to build a strong foundation for a season that will see him try once more to prove that he’s the franchise quarterback that the Rams wanted when they took him first overall in 2010.

If Bradford can’t do that, it will likely be time for the Rams to look in another direction under center after spending the last few years concentrating on overhauling the rest of the roster.

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