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Report: 35-percent chance Roethlisberger plays


As the football-following world waits for the puff of white smoke that will let us all know whether Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be riding a white horse (a really big white horse) in to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday to save his team for another batch (see what I did there?) of turnovers, the most specific report regarding his availability has emerged.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reports that Roethlisberger has a 35-percent chance of playing.

Though we’re not quite sure how anyone has arrived at that number, each team has to engage in a similar exercise every week.  “Doubtful” means there’s a 25-percent chance a player will play.  “Questionable” connotes to a 50-50 coin flip.  (Despite popular belief, “probable” doesn’t mean 75 percent, but that there’s a virtual certainty the player will be available for normal duty.)

If the number really is 35, the Steelers will have a hard time choosing between “doubtful” and “questionable” when the time comes to turn in the injury report.  Maybe they’ll say he’s doubtionable.

Regardless of the label, we’ll be shocked if he doesn’t play.  The notion that the dislocated rib threatens his aorta came from no one but Ben himself, and if he’s in no danger of serious injury the question becomes whether a less-than-100-percent Roethlisberger is better than the alternative.

Based on what we saw last week in Cleveland, is it even a question?

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Vikings sign Chunky Clements, release Caleb Kidder

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The Vikings signed defensive tackle Chunky Clements on Friday. They released defensive end Caleb Kidder to make room for Clements.

Clements went undrafted after starting 20 games and playing in 26 others at Illinois. He finished his college career with 99 tackles, six sacks and four forced fumbles.

Clements missed the final game of the 2016 season after undergoing surgery to repair a Lisfranc tear in his right foot.

The Vikings now have 89 players on their roster.

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Jim Harbaugh hires ex-49ers executive Tom Gamble at Michigan

Shortly after John Lynch was hired as the 49ers’ General Manager, Assistant G.M. Tom Gamble left the team. Now he’s reuniting with a former 49ers coach.

Jim Harbaugh is hiring Gamble to work at the Michigan football program, Tim Kawakami of reports.

Gamble and Harbaugh worked together during Harbaugh’s time as the 49ers’ head coach. It’s unclear exactly what Gamble’s role will be at Michigan, but it’s believed he’ll work in football administration, not as an on-field coach.

Harbaugh has built a large and expensive staff at Michigan, with three assistant coaches making $1 million a year.

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Report: D’Onta Foreman tests negative for marijuana, according to attorney

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Soon after D’Onta Foreman’s arrest in Austin, his attorney released a statement expressing confidence evidence would prove the running back was not guilty of the charges. On Friday, attorney Chip Lewis told John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that Foreman tested negative for marijuana at a Houston lab.

Foreman, a third-round pick of the Texans, was arrested early Sunday morning by University of Texas Police for possession of marijuana and possessing an unlawful weapon. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Lewis said in a statement Sunday that the handgun was legal, recently purchased by Foreman, registered in his name and properly secured inside Foreman’s vehicle. The attorney said the marijuana belonged to the passenger in Foreman’s car.

The Texans drafted Foreman in the third round to backup Lamar Miller.


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Ravens make moves, including officially signing Griff Whalen

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The Ravens announced the signing of receiver Griff Whalen among a number of roster moves Friday.

Baltimore also signed rookie cornerback Reggie Porter. Porter signed with the Colts after going undrafted out of Utah. Indianapolis released him June 12.

The Ravens placed receiver Michael Campanaro on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a toe injury.

Offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, a fifth-round pick from Texas A&M, came off the non-football injury list after passing his conditioning test.

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Landon Collins predicts Giants’ takeover in the NFC East

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The Giants are talking the talk. Now can they back it up?

On the heels of Jason Pierre-Paul calling the Giants a Super Bowl contender and Dwayne Harris’ reminder that the Giants swept the Cowboys last season, Landon Collins insists the Giants are ready to “take over” the NFC East.

Giants players have responded with defiance after Dak Prescott declared at the ESPY Awards earlier this month that the Cowboys would defend their NFC East title.

Collins, who had already responded on social media to Prescott’s claim, fired back Friday after his youth football camp.

“I commented right underneath his picture [on social media] and said, ‘I highly doubt that,'” Collins said, via Art Stapleton of The Record. “They will not control the East. It’s over with. We’re going to have a run for it. I mean, they’re not going to win, I tell you that much. We’re definitely going to take over.”

The Giants handed the Cowboys two of their three losses in the regular season in 2016, giving them a three-game winning streak over their rivals. The Giants have not won the division since 2011, but the NFC East has not had a repeat division champ since the 2004 Eagles.

The Cowboys, who went 13-3 last season, have not posted back-to-back winning seasons since 2008-09.

So until the season opener, let the debate continue.

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Fight could be looming over possible three-time franchise tag limit

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As star players begin to consider the Kirk Cousins/Trumaine Johnson year-to-year approach to the franchise tag, there’s a potential squabble looming regarding the total number of times a player can be restricted by the franchise tag.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement contains no express limitation on the number of franchise tags that can be applied to a given player. Article 10, Section 2(b) of the CBA arguably implies that a player can’t be franchise-tagged more three times.

The NFL Players Association would argue that the franchise can’t be used more than three times. The NFL declined comment on the issue.

Of course, the ability to use the franchise tag for a fourth time and the price of it are two very different propositions. With the franchise-tagged player guaranteed at least a 44-percent increase over his second franchise tender when tagged a third time, it likely would cost at least as much for a fourth.

So if Cousins, for example, were tagged a fourth time, he’d get a 44-percent raise over the 44-percent raise over $23.94 million. That’s $49.6 million for a fourth year under the franchise tag — which means it’s highly unlikely he’d be tagged a fourth time.

Could there ever be a player who merits a fourth franchise tag? If more and more players go year to year, eventually maybe someone will.

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Ravens signing veteran WR Griff Whalen

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The Ravens are adding another veteran receiver and a potential kick returner. Griff Whalen worked out for the Ravens on Friday, according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, and Ian Rapoport of reports they will sign Whalen after he passed a physical.

Baltimore placed receiver Michael Campanaro on the physically unable to perform list with a toe injury, creating a need for an option in the slot and at returner.

Whalen, 27, has played for the Colts and the Chargers in five seasons. He also spent a few days with a Patriots last season but was cut when New England picked up Michael Floyd.

Whalen has appeared in 41 games, making 47 catches for 509 yards and three touchdowns, which includes two receptions for 22 yards in eight games for the Chargers last season. For his career, Whalen also averages 24.2 yards kickoff returns and 8.2 yards on punt returns.

As he awaited another NFL opportunity, Whalen took part in The Spring League Showcase.

The Ravens signed Jeremy Maclin last month but are young at the position behind Maclin and Mike Wallace.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 9: New York Giants

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The Giants got back to the playoffs last season and their defensive turnaround was the biggest reason for their return.

They signed defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins and saw those players team with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive player of the year candidate Landon Collins to form their steeliest defense in years.

All of those players are back after Pierre-Paul signed a new deal with the team this offseason and Collins may be poised for another move up the ladder of best safeties in the league, which provides a strong foundation for the Giants’ chances of making it two postseason appearances in a row.

Whether they get there or not will have a lot to do with the other side of the ball.

Biggest positive change: After years of being the best part of the team, the Giants offense slipped behind the defense last season. In order to remedy that, the team released Victor Cruz and signed Brandon Marshall after the veteran was dismissed by the Jets.

Marshall gives Eli Manning a big target across from Odell Beckham, something that’s been missing in recent years and something that should come in handy in the red zone. They also used a first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, who has the potential to improve another weak spot although it has taken many tight ends more than one year to find their footing at the professional level.

Biggest negative change: The most notable departure from last year’s team was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who left for the Colts and opens up a spot next to Damon Harrison on the Giants’ defensive line. They’ll need to find the right answer there, but the overall strength of the defense makes it easier to live with Hankins’ exit.

The most negative change, then, was the shift from the urgency the Giants showed in fixing the defense last year to the passive approach that the team took to their offensive line. Prices were high in free agency and the draft was short on sure things, but signing D.J. Fluker feels like an unlikely way to turn one of last year’s biggest weaknesses into a strength.

Coaching thermometer: The Giants have generally been resistant to making coaching changes and, unless they are sticklers for fashion and hairstyle choices, there was little about Ben McAdoo’s first season in the top job suggests that will be changing. He returned the team to the playoffs for the first time since they won the Super Bowl after the 2011 season and his history as an offensive coordinator gives reason to believe he’ll find a way to elicit better results from that unit.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Odell Beckham. Beckham’s been under a microscope for most of the last two seasons thanks to on-field productivity, emotional outbursts, absence from offseason work, upcoming contract extension, boat trips before playoff losses and other things of varying importance. Getting his view on all of that might take more than one beer, so we’ll go ahead and bring a whole case.

How they can prove us wrong: If the Giants rise higher, it will almost certainly be because their patience with the offensive line pays off with improvement across the board on that side of the ball. On the other hand, lack of improvement from that group could stifle any hopes of a rebound in the run game and mitigate any advantages they may have gained by adding Marshall. That would leave the Giants putting the same pressure on their defense while navigating a schedule short on soft patches.

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Cowboys working out running backs before camp

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The Cowboys are still waiting to hear what will happen to Ezekiel Elliott, and they’re looking at some other running backs before the open training camp.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Cowboys worked out former Jaguars “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson and former Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman.

While any potential suspension of Elliott isn’t really a factor here, the Cowboys would like to check out some options.

They lost Lance Dunbar to the Rams this offseason, and have Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris in reserve.

Robinson has gotten some sniffs but no jobs since the Jaguars let him walk. While they hoped he’d become a versatile offensive piece, he never did much to justify the attention.

Hillman spent part of last season with the Chargers, but averaged 3.2 yards per carry and hasn’t had much interest.

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Cleveland’s chief building official says Browns stadium not a fire hazard

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Cleveland’s chief building official assures Browns fans that they have no need to worry about FirstEnergy Stadium being a fire hazard. The Associated Press reported that the stadium uses some of the same types of panels being investigated as a possible contributor to the deadly apartment fire in London last month.

There is zero risk to the fans,” Thomas Vanover said at a news conference at the stadium, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “There is no risk of a tragedy like what occurred at Grenfell [in London].” 

The panels used on the London building, where 80 people died in the June 14 fire, cover some 100,000 square feet of the exterior of Cleveland’s stadium. The panels are Reynobond composite material manufactured by Arconic Inc.

The panels were backed with synthetic material that helped to insulate the apartment tower. The stadium has the panels mounted on non-combustible concrete as a trim covering the structure.

“The panels are not what caused the tragedy,” Vanover said. “The panels were part of a system that caused a tragedy.”

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Anquan Boldin to visit the Bills next week

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Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin still wants to play, and he’s taking a visit next week.

According to Dan Graizano of ESPN, Boldin will visit the Bills next Monday.

The Bills have little in the way of depth behind perpetually hurt Sammy Watkins (though Watkins is, at the moment, OK), and used a second-round pick on East Carolina’s Zay Jones.

The 36-year-old Boldin caught 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Lions, proving he can still be productive. The Bills could use all the help they could get, and Boldin would represent an upgrade over what’s on hand.

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Marcus Mariota to play lighter, despite team’s instructions

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Titans coaches had suggested to Marcus Mariota in the past that they wanted him to weigh between 225 and 230 pounds, in order to protect himself from hits.

But he’s coming to camp well under that goal, in hopes of avoiding them.

According to Paul Kuharsky of The Midday 180 in Nashville, Mariota’s personal trainer said he’s going to report around 215 pounds in hopes of being more mobile this season. He has been listed at 222 the last two years.

“I have always told Marcus that I thought he should play at 215 pounds because I felt like he was the fastest at that weight,” said Ryan Flaherty, the senior director of performance at Nike. “The No. 1 injury QBs suffer in the NFL is AC sprain and that’s from getting hit.

“I told him that they can’t hit what they can’t catch so he should think about playing at a weight where he is his fastest. However the Titans coaches always told him they wanted him heavier and to play around 225-230 pounds to be able to absorb hits. Finally this year Marcus agrees with me and will play at 215 and I think you’ll notice a huge difference even though it’s only a difference of 10 pounds. He will be much quicker and faster this year and the goal with that will be to take less hits which will in turn keep him healthy. Unfortunately the first 2 years he’s missed games because of contact injuries so I think with him being leaner and lighter he will reduce the number of hits and thus reduce the risk of injury.”

Of course, the Titans might not be wild about their suggestions being ignored, but they’d obviously rather have Mariota available. Their playoff chances and his season ended with a broken ankle on Dec. 24, and with their additions this offseason have them positioned to improve.

Flaherty has worked with Mariota since prior to the 2015 Combine, and concentrated on preventing injuries after knee problems cost Mariota four games in 2015. And for what it’s worth, he said Mariota will be ready to participate fully when camp opens next week, after they took a cautious approach with him this offseason.

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NFL is wrapping up the Ezekiel Elliott investigation

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Nearly a year after Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott allegedly engaged in domestic violence, the NFL is closing in on ending its investigation.

According to NFL Media (i.e., the NFL), the investigatory phase of the process is nearing completion, and the NFL has shared its findings with the NFL Players Association. Also, the NFLPA has provided to the league a “final response” aimed at answering “any lingering question” about the probe into whether Elliott violated the personal conduct policy.

It’s unknown whether Elliott will be disciplined or suspended. Although he was never arrested or charged, the league applies a lower standard of proof in these matters, with the question of whether Elliott violated the policy essentially coming down to whether the league believes Elliott or his accuser.

Broader business considerations necessarily will influence that assessment, including pressure from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (who is believed to have made it clear that he won’t be as compliant as the Patriots were about the Tom Brady suspension), pressure from other owners who want Elliott to be punished, and the ever-critical P.R. component, which is the primary reason for the league’s decision to conduct its own investigations and impose its own discipline.

If the league doesn’t find a violation, the alleged victim can file a lawsuit or otherwise tell her story. And, necessarily, there will be people who automatically believe it and people who automatically reject it. Those who believe it will criticize the league for not taking action against Elliott, creating a potential Ray Rice-style embarrassment for the league.

Last week, ESPN reported that Elliott is bracing for a short suspension, which possibly would be the result of a compromise aimed at placating all of the various constituencies, and minimizing the potential P.R. fallout.

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Frank Gore closing in on the Top 5 for all-time rushing yards

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Frank Gore is a rare running back who’s still able to play at a high level into his 30s, rushing for 1,025 yards last season at the age of 33. If he can do that again at age 34, he’ll join some truly elite company.

Gore is already the active rushing leader, with 13,065 career yards, and the only players ahead of him in NFL history are Hall of Famers. If Gore equals his 2016 production this year, he’ll move ahead of three of those Hall of Famers — Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson — and into the Top 5 in NFL history. He’d also then be just behind No. 4 Curtis Martin, who retired with 14,101 yards.

Another 1,000-yard season would be the 10th of Gore’s career, tying him with Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders for the second most 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. Only Emmitt Smith, with 11 1,000-yard seasons, has more.

It’s probably a long shot to think Gore will last long enough to pass Sanders (15,269 career yards), Payton (16,726) and Smith (18,355) on the all-time rushing list. But it’s easy to see Gore moving into fourth place all-time, and making a strong case for himself as a Hall of Famer.

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Adam Jones suspended one game by NFL

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Apparently emboldened by the Sean Spicer news, the NFL is firing up the Friday news dump machine a little early today.

Bengals cornerback Adam Jones has been suspended one game by the league for violating the personal conduct policy, and has three days to appeal the decision.

Jones pleaded guilty to obstructing official business, after a January incident in which he spat on a jailhouse nurse (which sounds like a euphemism but isn’t in this case). This came after he blew up at reporters who had the nerve to ask him about the most interesting thing to happen to him this offseason.

In the league’s letter to Jones, they said the “extensive video documentation of the tone, tenor and nature of your interactions with law enforcement at the site of your arrest, during transportation to the jail, and during the booking process. As you acknowledged, your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL. While it is our understanding that appropriate apologies have been publicly extended, they do not completely negate your behavior and admission of culpability for the underlying conduct.”

The Bengals have consistently stood by Jones for years, primarily because he’s good at football. And they’re deep enough in former first-rounders at the position to survive the opener against the Ravens without him.

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