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Ponder wants to meet Favre as he progresses as a QB

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Vikings are still trying to figure out whether Christian Ponder can be a franchise-level quarterback.

Toward the end, Ponder wants to meet the lsat guy the Vikings had who met that description.

Ponder told Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com he was trying to arrange a meeting this offseason with Brett Favre, to pick his brain for help taking the next step in his own development.

“We’re going to bring that up and try to take advantage of that,” Ponder said.

After trying and coming close with a quarterback on the downside of his career, the Vikings went the opposite route in drafting Ponder and trusting him with the job as a rookie, after it became obvious Donovan McNabb had nothing left.

He’s played a mostly efficient style, and the Vikings haven’t asked too much of him, but he’s nearing the point where he’s either going to take a step or not. Tomorrow’s game against the Packers is going to be a good gauge of where he stands in the process.

“You talk about litmus tests,” Frazier said. “This will be one going on the road in Green Bay against a high-powered offense that we need to match at times. This will be a gauge for [Ponder] as to where he is in his career.”

Walking in as the starter on a team that was already 1-5 last year tempered expectations, but he’s got them 6-5 this season, and on the fringes of the playoffs.

“He’s coming along,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said of Ponder. “The coaches are working with him. But it’s a process. You don’t expect him to come in and be All-World.

“He’s going to make some mistakes and go through some growing pains. But I think he’ll be a better player because of it.”

Whether he ever gets to Favre’s level remains to be seen.

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Dwight Freeney expects to visit Falcons next week

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

Dwight Freeney is in Cincinnati on Wednesday to meet with the Bengals, but it doesn’t look like that will be the end of his search for a home for the 2016 season.

Jim Trotter of ESPN reports that Freeney told him that he expects to visit with the Falcons next week.

The Falcons came into the offseason with a need to boost the pass rush provided by their front seven. They signed linebacker Courtney Upshaw and defensive end Derrick Shelby, drafted a couple of linebackers and are moving Vic Beasley from defensive end to linebacker.

Freeney had eight sacks in 11 games after signing with the Cardinals during the 2015 season. That led Arizona and it would have led Atlanta by a comfortable margin — Beasley topped the team with four sacks — which makes Freeney the kind of established pass rushing threat that the Falcons still don’t have on hand for the coming season.

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The NFL’s Operation Mom is in full gear across the league

leave-it-to-beaver

It didn’t take a long listen to owners leaving yesterday’s league meeting in Charlotte to realize that a major PR push was in effect, and that someone — cough, Joe Lockhart, cough — seems to have leaned on all NFL personnel to push the “Mom” button as often as possible while talking about player safety.

And we’re already seeing that message spread out from the member clubs.

The Cardinals sent out a press release today advertising a “Football Skills and Education Camp” this weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium. As part of the camp, they’re hosting a “Mom’s Football Safety Clinic” aimed at “mothers of the high school football players participating at the camp.” The Cardinals are also trotting out Dr. Javier Cardenas, a neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute to speak to the football camp and the mom’s clinic about concussions. It’s not the first such event they’ve held, but it’s hard not to see the timing.

Of course, it’s all a good and noble effort, steps taken in good faith to make sure all those connected with this great and glorious game know how safe it is. And Bills General Manager Doug Whaley decided after a good night’s sleep that he didn’t really mean it yesterday when he said football wasn’t a game meant to be played by humans.

Again, this is the tip of the spear, the beginning of a major public relations effort on the part of the NFL, which isn’t even ashamed to admit it.

In fact, Jets owner Woody Johnson summed up their plan yesterday better than we ever could

“Things have a way of changing when they go through other people’s mouths,” Johnson said. “We have to do a better job of explaining ourselves — this is what we’re doing, this is our intent and to convince people we’re honest in what we’re trying to do and that we have integrity. . . .

The press try to spin one way or the other. Trying to get the real story out without spin is difficult.”

So obviously, they’re going to take up that challenge on their own. Buckle up, moms, the NFL is coming for you.

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Scientists submit brief in support of Tom Brady

New England Patriots Training Camp Getty Images

On Monday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association filed a petition for rehearing of the ruling that reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension. On Tuesday, a group of professors of physics and engineering submitted a brief in support of Brady’s position.

The eight-page document, filed by 21 professors at MIT, Cal, Michigan, USC, Stanford, Delaware, Purdue, Penn, Boston College, Minnesota, focuses on the application of the Ideal Gas Law to the footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC championship game played in January 2015. It strongly disputes the conclusions made by the NFL in the investigation that resulted in a finding that tampering with footballs had occurred.

The argument is fundamentally no different than the point PFT has made consistently since the official PSI numbers were released in May 2015: With the Ideal Gas Law necessarily causing the air pressure in the footballs to drop during the first half of the game, tampering with the footballs would have resulted in dramatically lower readings than the actual numbers measured by the NFL.

Included with the written presentation is a claim that the professors have obtained field-temperature date for more than 10,000 outdoor NFL games played since 1960, and that approximately 61 percent of all games would have included footballs that dropped in air pressure below the minimum of 12.5 PSI, if the footballs were inflated to 13.0 at kickoff. For footballs inflated (as the Patriots were) toward the low end of the range, roughly 82 percent of all games would have included footballs below the minimum.

“As professors, we cannot fathom how it is permissible to impose punishment for the possibility of a negligible increment of pressure loss, when underinflated footballs are common to NFL games, when laws of physics cause much larger pressure drops, and when the very possibility of an additional increment of pressure loss was generated from assumptions of the league’s choosing rather than data,” the brief concludes. “In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing.”

Technically irrelevant to the issues pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the brief contains the kind of commonsensical information that could persuade a judge to take a more favorable view of the overall case. And while footnote No. 1 to the brief points out that “[n]o party’s counsel authored this brief in whole or in part” and that “[n]o party, no counsel for any party, and no person other than [the professors] or their counsel contributed money that was intended to fund preparation or submission of this brief,” it’s a development that Brady and the NFLPA surely welcome. It also wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the legal team representing Brady and the NFLPA instigated the filing.

Why shouldn’t they? The scientific principles articulated in the brief are accurate, but those same principles haven’t received nearly the attention they deserve, at any stage of the disciplinary process or the litigation.

The numbers measured by the NFL were in line with what the science would have predicted. If air deliberately had been removed from the footballs, the PSI readings necessarily would have been much, much lower.

Thus, to the extent that Brady’s suspension arises from tampering with footballs used in the January 2015 AFC title game, the evidence of tampering remains inconclusive at best. Even if that dynamic is never mentioned by any judge serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in any further documents generated by these proceedings, the 13 judges who will be determining whether to grant the request for a rehearing need to process and digest the information provided by these 21 professors.

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Report: Falcons pass on signing Boykin

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 18: Brandon Boykin #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball during the 1st half of the  game at Heinz Field on October 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Free agent cornerback Brandon Boykin will remain free for now, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported Wednesday.

Boykin worked out for the Falcons earlier this week. A source indicated to McClure that Boykin is healthy and that the Falcons choosing not to sign him is a football decision, not one based on any outside factors.

The Panthers released Boykin earlier this month after signing him in March. He became a free agent after playing last season with the Steelers, who acquired him in a preseason trade with the Eagles.

Boykin, 26, had six of his eight career interceptions in 2013 with the Eagles. He played in all 16 games for the Steelers last season, mostly in nickel packages.

The Falcons will likely stay active in their search for cornerback help. Second-year cornerback Jalen Collins is facing a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season, and the Falcons did not address the position in this year’s draft.

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Blair Walsh: Missed field goal won’t define me

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 10:  Blair Walsh #3 of the Minnesota Vikings misses a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at TCFBank Stadium on January 10, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Seattle Seahawks defeat the Minnesota Vikings with a score of 10 to 9.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh spoke to the media after Wednesday’s OTA session and one of the topics that came up was the team’s move indoors at their new stadium.

Walsh said it’s “always easier to kick indoors,” but added that he felt he “had one of my better years as a pro” while the Vikings were playing their home games outdoors in 2015. That was true for much of the season, although Walsh’s final kick at TCF Bank Stadium is the one that most people remember.

That was the 27-yard field goal that he hooked wide left with 22 seconds left in the team’s 10-9 playoff loss to the Seahawks. Walsh says the kick was one moment in his career that he “won’t define me” as a player.

“I’m way past the point of being upset about it or, you know, to the point where it bothers you like that,” Walsh said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It’s something I’ve already dealt with and gone through. On a day-to-day basis, no, I don’t think about it. I really don’t use it like that. That initial month or so period, I definitely looked at it as motivation for me. But, like I said before, I had a good year. That was enough motivation for me going into this year.”

Any high-pressure kicks that Walsh has to take this year will come with some added intrigue and any misses in those spots will surely lead some to conclude that he wilts in those situations. If Walsh makes them all, though, the definition of his career will include more than one bad kick on a cold January afternoon in Minneapolis.

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Miami nearly was shut out of Super Bowls 53, 54, 55

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 5: A general view of Sun Life Stadium prior to the game between the Miami Hurricanes and the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on September 5, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Sun Life Stadium ins in the middle of a two year renovation. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

It was no secret that Miami wouldn’t get another Super Bowl without significant renovations to the football stadium in which the Dolphins play. However, the renovations hardly guaranteed a return of the NFL’s title game to South Florida.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Dolphins nearly failed to secure the right to host any of the three Super Bowls awarded by NFL owners on Tuesday.

The Super Bowl LIII vote included Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa. After the first ballot, all four cities remained viable. After the second ballot, Tampa exited. Next, Miami was out — leaving Atlanta and New Orleans as the two finalists.

New Orleans nearly pulled it out, according to the source, thanks to a much more impressive than expected presentation from Gayle Benson, the wife of Saints owner Tom Benson. And if New Orleans had secured the rights to Super Bowl LIII, it’s believed Atlanta would have easily beaten Miami for Super Bowl LIV. (New Orleans did not bid on Super Bowls LIV or LV.)

Even without New Orleans or Atlanta to contend with, Miami nearly lost the Super Bowl LIV competition with Tampa. As the source said, it should have been an easy win for Miami, but it wasn’t.

While the ultimate selection of Atlanta, Miami, and L.A. surprised few, the point is that it wasn’t the slam dunk that many had envisioned. Which likely doesn’t provide much consolation for Tampa and New Orleans.

Still, the close-but-no-cigar outcome should give both cities hope for landing a Super Bowl the next time Super Bowls are awarded. Which is good for the NFL, since it could keep Tampa and New Orleans from saying, “Screw it” and opting out of the Super Bowl bidding process.

It ultimately could be bad for Miami when it comes to securing what would be the city’s 12th Super Bowl. Chances are that New Orleans will match Miami with 11 Super Bowls before Miami gets its next one after Super Bowl LIV.

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Steelers’ Ladarius Green out of OTAs after ankle surgery

San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green (89) runs past Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Quintin Demps (35) for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga) AP

Ladarius Green’s 2015 season with the Chargers was cut short by an ankle injury, and the ankle continues to hold him back now in Pittsburgh.

Green, a tight end who signed with the Steelers in March, is missing the start of Organized Team Activities because of surgery on the ankle. Green said he isn’t sure when he’ll be back, but he is expected to participate in training camp.

“I just want to see if I can prove it to myself that I can go out there and be the best,” Green told ESPN.

The Steelers presumably knew the status of Green’s injured ankle when they signed him, and so this is likely not a major concern. But it bears watching to see how long into training camp they’ll have to wait for their offense to be at full strength.

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Doug Whaley: “Poor choice of words” to say humans shouldn’t play football

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 08:  Buffalo Bills General Manager Doug Whaley walks the sidelines before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Michael Adamucci/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills General Manager Doug Whaley made some headlines on Tuesday when he said during a radio interview that football is “a violent game that I personally don’t think humans are supposed to play.”

It was an odd position for a man charged with fielding a team of humans to play football to make while answering a question about wide receiver Sammy Watkins being injury prone. Hearing that from a team executive was particularly jarring at a time when the NFL is working hard to make the case that they are making the game a safer one.

On Wednesday, Whaley hewed more closely to that party line while walking back what he said the previous day.

“Clearly I used a poor choice of words in my comment yesterday morning,” Whaley said in the statement. “As a former player who has the utmost respect and love for the game, the point that I was trying to make is that football is a physical game and injuries are a part of it. Playing football no doubt is very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, and that is all part of what make the game so compelling to play and watch. The game has more protection for players now than ever, thanks largely to the safety advancements and numerous rule changes made by our league and promoted to all levels of football. I believe our game continues to have a bright future and I hope that this statement provides clarity as to the intent of my earlier comment.”

The brightness of Whaley’s future with the Bills will have plenty to do with how the team fares this season, making the health of the human beings he brought to Buffalo of paramount importance.

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DeSean Jackson not on hand for Washington OTAs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: DeSean Jackson #11 of the Washington Redskins tells the crowd to be quiet after a touchdown catch by Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

In some precincts, teams are surprised by guys who are able to practice during OTAs.

In Washington, they can’t be surprised by one of the guys who isn’t.

Via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNMidAtlantic.com, wide receiver DeSean Jackson wasn’t on hand for today’s work.

This one gets the trusty #asexpected hashtag, because Jackson has never been what you’d call a regular attendee during the offseason.

The 29-year-old Jackson only played nine games last year because of injuries, and is carrying a $9.25 million cap number in the final year of his deal.

But Washington seems intent on hanging onto him, to go with Pierre Garcon and first-round pick Josh Doctson this year. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was recently bragging about his many targets, but he’s short one today.

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Corey Coleman may return punts for Browns

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 5: Corey Coleman #1 of the Baylor Bears runs the ball down field against the Texas Longhorns in the fourth quarter at McLane Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) Getty Images

When we last heard from the Browns about first-round pick Corey Coleman, coach Hue Jackson was discussing the wideout’s need to get into better physical condition after finding it lacking it early practices.

The latest word on Coleman is more positive. The topic on Wednesday was the possibility that Coleman will return kicks for the team this season. Coleman returned kickoffs at Baylor early in his career and returned just three three punts, but special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said neither that nor the fact that Coleman is expected to play a major role as a receiver stands in the way of him landing the job.

“He can do both,” Tabor said, via Cleveland.com. “He’s an explosive player and he’s developing right now so we’re working on all of those things. He obviously has great speed. He has some really good short-area quickness, a make-you-miss type guy and then has a good burst to go. He’s doing a nice job for us and we’ve just got to keep developing him. … If it’s going to help you win, that’s what we want to do. I don’t get caught up in where a guy’s at just from this standpoint: Antonio Brown for the Steelers might be regarded as one of the best players in the NFL, and he’s their punt returner.”

Antonio Brown comparisons are probably best kept in reserve until Coleman has actually taken a few hundred snaps in the NFL, but that lack of experience as a pro is also why the team should see what he can do in a variety of roles. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said he’s fine with the idea because “we know that [Coleman will] score the ball” however it gets into his hands, so that’s all the more reason to find as many ways as possible to get it to him.

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T.Y. Hilton “more motivated” in 2016

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Getty Images

At this time of year, everyone is undefeated and optimistic and playing really fast in shorts. And all of that makes it easy to get excited about how players look on the practice field.

Stephen Holder of the Indy Star wrote that praise Colts coach Chuck Pagano has bestowed upon wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been “no embellishment” and that Hilton has been the star of the team’s early spring practices.

“I’m more motivated, more hungry,” Hilton said. “I’m just ready to go, man. After watching the playoffs last year and not being in there, I’m just ready to get back to that point and continue to lead this team.”

Hilton still caught 69 passes for 1,124 yards last season, his third straight season over 1,000 yards. But quarterback Andrew Luck was hurt and the Colts weren’t the same team they were in the previous two seasons. Hilton signed a big-money extension before last season because he’s Luck’s top target, and for the Colts to get back to the playoffs they’ll need another big season from Hilton.

“T.Y. is having as good an offseason as anybody, probably better than anybody,” Pagano told reporters. “I’ve never seen this guy practice as fast as he’s practicing right now. He’s done it day in and day out.”

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Colts sign third-rounder Le’Raven Clark, wrap up draft class

LAWRENCE, KS - OCTOBER 17: Le'Raven Clark #62 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders prepares for the next play against the Kansas Jayhawks during the game on October 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts are the latest team to wrap up their draft pick signings, getting the last of them under contract this morning.

The team announced that third-rounder Le’Raven Clark was signed today.

The tackle from Texas Tech (it’s funnier if you imagine Sylvester the Cat saying it) was a four-year starter in college, and has a chance to earn time quickly on a line that needs all the help it can get.

The Colts spent their first-rounder on center Ryan Kelly from Alabama, and doubling up on linemen early shows that they at least realize they need to protect quarterback Andrew Luck if they’re going to pay him.

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Tom Brady appreciated Kevin Faulk’s statement at the draft

Tom Brady AP

Former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk made a statement at the NFL draft when he wore a Tom Brady jersey while announcing the Patriots’ third-round pick. Faulk did it to show that the whole Patriots organization is behind Brady, who is facing a four-game Deflategate suspension.

Brady saw that statement, and he liked it.

Faulk told Toucher & Rich that Brady called him to say how much he appreciated the show of respect from a former teammate.

Thank you for just showing the respect that we had for each other,” Faulk said Brady told him.

Faulk said he was a little nervous about the reception he might get, but the feedback has been positive.

“[I] went to the green room right before they take you to the stage,” he related. “And the girl who took me to the green room, she was a New England Patriots fan. And she was like, ‘I love it!’ So that just gave me that much more . . . confidence. It was like, ‘Let’s go do this!'”

Roger Goodell probably didn’t care for Faulk’s statement, but it was well received in New England, from the fans to Bill Belichick to Robert Kraft, and to Brady himself.

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PFWA objects to Bills’ new media policy

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 14: Rex Ryan speaks at a press conference announcing his arrival as head coach of the Buffalo Bills on January 14, 2015 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills unveiled a new media policy on Tuesday. It created a stir among media members.

It also provoked an official response from the Pro Football Writers Association, through current president Jeff Legwold.

In an email to the Associated Press, Legwold called the new policy “a vast overreach of the guidelines in the [NFL’s] current media policy.” Legwold also said that the policy is “not only unnecessary, it is not in compliance.”

Among other things, the Bills prohibit during all practices (closed and open) “[r]eporting on personnel groupings, sub-packages, players who are practicing with individual units (first-team, second team, goal line, offense, nickel defense, etc.), special plays, who is rushing the passer, dropped passes, interceptions, QB completion percentage, etc.”

Coach Rex Ryan blamed the new policy on the team’s P.R. staff, a somewhat ludicrous proposition which overlooks the reality that the P.R. staff works for the coaching staff, not vice-versa.

Via the Associated Press, Bills P.R. chief Scott Berchtold justified the new approach by explaining that it’s unfair for reporters to keep stats on players during practice, because it’s simply practice. Regardless of whether there’s any merit to that theory, it sounds like something that’s coming not from the P.R. staff but from the coaching staff.

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New replay rule has a significant potential loophole

Upon Further Review Football AP

As mentioned on Tuesday (but thereafter forgotten by me), the NFL’s new replay rule has one specific facet that merits closer attention. The twist in question resulted either from shoddy rule-drafting — or from a subtle but nevertheless deliberate effort to make a potentially dramatic change to the rules.

Here’s the key portion of the provision, which expands last year’s practice for the postseason to all games: “The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating Department at the League office may consult with the on-field officials to provide information on the correct application of playing rules, including appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock.”

As written, it’s not entirely clear whether “appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock” represent the only circumstances in which consultation is permitted. While that’s likely the intent, the rule as written arguably allows consultation with on-field officials “to provide information on the correct application of playing rules” generally, with the list following the term “including” being only examples of what is permitted.

On one hand, if the new procedure were intended to have broader relevance, the word “including” would have been followed by “but not limited to.” On the other hand, if the rule were intended to be restricted solely to the “appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock,” it should have been written more clearly.

For example: “The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating Department at the League office may consult with the on-field officials to provide information regarding the appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock.”

Or: “The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating Department at the League office may consult with the on-field officials to provide information on the correct application of playing rules relating to the appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock.”

Or: “The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating Department at the League office may consult with the on-field officials to provide information on the correct application of playing rules, including appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, status of the game clock, and nothing more.”

So either someone did a subpar job of writing this fairly important sentence or someone knew exactly what he or she was doing, with the goal of allowing the league office to provide real-time assistance to on-field officials on any and all matters relating to “the correct application of playing rules.”

On one hand, I was reluctant to point this out, because I fully support the unlimited use of the communication system between the league office and the officiating crew in each and every stadium, in an effort to get every call right. On the other hand, if that power is going to be woven into the rules, it needs to be done in a way that is clear to everyone — including the 32 folks who voted on the new rule.

Again, there’s a chance the someone simply didn’t write the rule as well as it could have been written. Either way, it’s a situation the cries out for clarification at some point before the 2016 football season commences.

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