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Joe Thomas unloads on Peyton Hillis for putting contract above team

Joe Thomas AP

Running back Peyton Hillis returns to Cleveland this weekend, a year after the Madden curse impacted him in an unprecedented way.

Hillis wanted a new contract, and his desire to cash in got in the way of his performance.

On Wednesday, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas confirmed what had been long suspected regarding a tumultuous season that included rumors and reports of Hillis using illness and injury as an excuse to demonstrate his displeasure with not getting paid.

It was a terrible distraction,” Thomas said, via the Associated Press.  “He crippled our offense.  We were struggling to find anybody who could carry the ball after all the injuries we had.  To have Peyton going through a contract dispute and basically refusing to play, it was a big distraction.  But more than anything, he was our starting running back that was a good player who was going to help us be a successful offense.

“When he’s not there and you don’t have anybody to turn to, it makes it hard to win.  And that’s the distraction, it’s not being successful.”

Hillis became the unexpected workhorse of the Cleveland running game in 2010, after second-round rookie Montarrio Hardesty was injured.  Hillis racked up more than 1,100 yards, and he won a popular-vote tournament to become the cover athlete for Madden 12.

“He was everything people knew about him — hard-working, blue-collar, tough, would do anything for anybody on the team,” Thomas said.  “All he cared about was winning, and then all of a sudden the next year, all he cared about was trying to get his new contract.”

Thomas specifically pointed to Hillis leaving the team to get married during the season, at a time when he needed treatment for injuries.

“It was kind of one weird thing after another more than anything,” Thomas said. “We have guys getting married during the season and it’s not a big deal.  When you’re ‘injured’ [yes, Thomas used air quotes . . . take that, Kuselias] and you should be getting treatment, to go do your own thing repeatedly was just disrespectful more than anything to his teammates.”

Thomas said that players tried to get through to him, to no avail.

“You see a lot of guys in contract disputes, like Matt Forte,” Thomas said.  “His solution was, ‘I’m going to go out and prove they have to have me and they can’t play without me.’  The frustrating thing to a lot of teammates was you would try to talk to him and you try to tell him, ‘That’s not the right way to do it if you want to get your big contract.’  He just wouldn’t listen to anybody.

“People who thought they were very close friends with him, he wouldn’t listen to anybody.  He thought he knew the right way to do it and it ended up not being the right way and hurting everybody.  Not just himself.  It was a tough situation.”

Hillis ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs.  Thanks to the comments from Thomas, who admirably went on the record and didn’t hide behind anonymity, it’s safe to say that Hillis will receive a less-than-warm welcome when he re-enters the Factory of Sadness on Sunday.

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Vikings continue to focus on welcoming Adrian Peterson back

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The Vikings have been silent in the hours since Judge David Doty vacated the suspension of running back Adrian Peterson. Earlier in the hour, they issued a statement which makes it clear that, for now, they’ll continue to be silent when it comes to talking directly to Peterson.

“Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization,” the Vikings said in a statement. “Today’s ruling leaves Adrian’s status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time.”

Peterson already was due to have his suspension revisited on April 15, with the possibility of a reinstatement at that time. It’s unclear whether the NFL’s appeal and/or further proceedings before arbitrator Harold Henderson will alter that timeline.

The Vikings intend to try to persuade Peterson to stay in Minnesota, but they can’t commence that process until they are allowed to communicate with him.

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Recalling the Raymond Berry era and New England’s failed run at Bill Walsh

Raymond Berry on the sideline Getty Images

Bill Belichick. Pete Carroll. Bill Parcells. As coaching goes, the Patriots couldn’t have done much better over the last 22 seasons.

Parcells is a Hall of Famer, and Belichick will surely have his day in Canton, too. Carroll, meanwhile, went on to lead title-winning teams at USC and with the Seattle Seahawks after leaving New England, so the Patriots were on the right track.

But let’s go back a little further, to December 1989, when the Patriots tried to hire another Hall of Fame coach.

According to the late, great Will McDonough of the Boston Globe, then-Patriots owner Victor Kiam offered New England’s head coaching/G.M. roles to former 49ers coach Bill Walsh. However, Walsh turned down the offer, citing his commitment to continue working for NBC, the Globe reported.

Still, a coaching change was coming for New England, which fell to 5-11 in ’89.

Twenty-five years ago Thursday, the Patriots parted ways with head coach Raymond Berry, reportedly because of a conflict over the hiring of New England’s offensive and defensive coordinators.

A Hall of Fame wide receiver, Berry was a successful NFL head coach, too. He led the Patriots to a 51-41 mark, with New England making the Super Bowl for the first time in its history in his first full season on the job. Overall, the Patriots posted winning records in his first four full campaigns (1985-1988).

The Patriots would tab Steelers defensive coordinator Rod Rust to replace Berry, but he was fired after New England was a league-worst 1-15 in 1990. The Pats then turned to Syracuse head coach Dick McPherson, who led New England to a 6-10 mark in ’91. However, New England was 2-14 in ’92, with McPherson missing seven games because of illness. He was replaced in January 1993.

From there, the Patriots hired Parcells, who led New England to the playoffs in his second season and the Super Bowl in his fourth. Then came the three-season stint for Carroll (1997-1999), who was then replaced by Belichick.

But before that trio of coaches came the 9-39 stretch the franchise endured in the three seasons after Berry’s departure. Would things have been different if the Patriots lured Walsh east, or if Berry stayed on? If Walsh succeeded in New England, would Parcells ever have had reason to join the franchise? How would franchise history have been altered?

We’ll never know. But we do know this: Raymond Berry, like Belichick and Carroll, won more than he lost in his time in Foxborough, and he has his own spot in Patriots history.

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NFL appeals ruling in Adrian Peterson case

Peterson Getty Images

Like the Ray Rice grievance process, the NFL lost the legal challenge in the Adrian Peterson suspension.  Unlike the Rice case, the league has the power to appeal the Peterson ruling.

“[W]e believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions,” the NFL said in statement released to PFT.  “As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court.”

It’s unclear how Peterson’s placement on the Commissioner-Exempt list affects his ability to speak to the Vikings about topics such as returning to the team when his suspension ends.  Peterson previously was scheduled to have his suspension revisited by the league on April 15.

It’s also unclear whether the appeal will be expedited.  The new league year, which opens the windows for trades, launches on March 10.

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Lancaster police say they don’t have Wal-Mart video

Camera Getty Images

When Ian Rapoport of NFL Media secured and published the police report from a July 11, 2011 incident at a Lancaster, Texas Wal-Mart, the chase for the surveillance video corresponding to that incident intensified.

First up, the Dallas Morning News attempted to get the video from the Lancaster, Texas police.

“Rona Stringfellow, assistant city manager for Lancaster, said in an email that the police department has no video of the incident,” writes David Moore of the Morning News.

It’s not surprising that the Lancaster police doesn’t have the video.  The responding officer, M.L. Johnson, makes no mention of reviewing the video or of preserving it in his report.  Absent a follow-up report, there’s no reason to think the Lancaster, Texas police ever had a copy of the video in their files.

The more likely custodians of the video are Wal-Mart, which undoubtedly had a video of what happened in the parking lot at some point in time, and the Dallas County District Attorney.  On Friday, February 20, I made a written request to the Dallas County District Attorney for the incident report and video under the Texas Public Information Act; I’ve yet to get a response.

Wal-Mart may have the video either at its Lancaster, Texas store or at the corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas.  It has no legal obligation to release the video, but there’s likely no legal prohibition on doing so, either.

In addition to the inevitable requests that will be made to the potential custodians of the video, don’t be surprised to learn that members of the media are actively seeking comment from Carl King, Christopher Mitchell, Alex Penson, and the alleged victim.  All four are mentioned in the report, and all four may be able to answer some of the lingering questions regarding the incident and the investigation of it.

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Rams release Kendall Langford

St Louis Rams v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Rams joined some of their rivals around the league in creating more cap space on Thursday by parting ways with a veteran member of the club.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the team has released defensive tackle Kendall Langford. Langford was set to make $6 million in the final year of a four-year contract that he signed before the start of the 2012 season and the Rams will now have that money to use in other ways this offseason.

Langford started the first 32 games he played for the Rams and had five sacks as an interior rusher during the 2013 season, but the drafting of Aaron Donald in the first round of last year’s draft moved him into a rotational role. Langford was also a longtime starter in Miami before joining the Rams and that experience should lead to interest in his services from other teams.

Tackle Jake Long, who is coming off a torn ACL, and quarterback Sam Bradford could provide further cap relief for the Rams through releases or restructurings before the start of the new league year.

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NFL on Greg Hardy: He can’t be reinstated because he has yet to be disciplined

Greg Hardy AP

Thursday’s ruling in the Adrian Peterson case regarding retroactive application of the new personal conduct policy presumably helps Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. It necessarily means that the NFL can’t apply the new personal conduct policy to him.

The league has responded to the argument that the Peterson decision should result in the immediate reinstatement of defensive end Greg Hardy by pointing out that he has not yet been suspended.

“He hasn’t been disciplined. There is nothing for him to seek reinstatement from at this point,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The first part is accurate, if we suspend disbelief on the notion that missing games with pay isn’t discipline. The second part isn’t accurate. Hardy currently is on the Commissioner-Exempt list pending the outcome of his personal-conduct policy review.  He has not yet been fully reinstated to active player status.

The Peterson ruling likely won’t get Hardy reinstated; last year, arbitrator Shayam Das found that the Commissioner has the authority to keep a player on the Commissioner-Exempt even after the player’s legal case has ended.  Hardy, whose criminal charges were dismissed when the complaining witness couldn’t be produced at trial, can in theory be kept on the Commissioner-Exempt list until a decision has been made under the personal-conduct policy.

Hardy also can be disciplined under the prior personal-conduct policy. For first-time offenders who committed domestic violence, the standard penalty under the old policy was two games.  In this specific case, where Hardy ultimately faced no criminal responsibility, he arguably would get no suspension for a first offense, if there’s even an actual “offense.”

Regardless, the league needs to process Hardy’s case the same way it would have been processed prior to the release of the Ray Rice in-elevator video.  The league also needs to move quickly, given that Hardy is due to hit free agency in 12 days.

It would be convenient for the NFL to drag its feet on this, justifying the kind of delay that could cost Hardy millions on the open market by pointing out that he got $13.1 million for playing in only one game last season.  But that’s precisely the kind of results-oriented decision-making that has caused the NFL’s legal docket to recently resemble the 2008 Detroit Lions.

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Cardinals sign Bradley Sowell to one-year deal

Bradley Sowell AP

In 2013, the Cardinals’ need for a left tackle was acute enough that they turned to Bradley Sowell for 12 starts.

Sowell didn’t play particularly well and the Cardnals signed Jared Veldheer to take over the spot in 2014, but the team still wanted to make sure that they’ll have Sowell around as a reserve in 2015. The Cardinals announced Thursday that they have signed the impending restricted free agent to a one-year deal that will keep him in Arizona.

Sowell also played for head coach Bruce Arians when he was an undrafted rookie with the Colts in 2012 and will likely be the swing tackle behind Veldheer and right tackle Bobbie Massie.

The Cardinals also announced the signing of cornerback Damond Smith. Smith went undrafted in the 2013 supplemental draft and spent last summer in a failed attempt to make the Chiefs. He also played for the British Columbia Lions in the CFL.

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Adrian Peterson “remand” should lead to immediate reinstatement

Peterson Getty Images

On Thursday, Judge David Doty overturn Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s suspension, finding the NFL could not apply the new personal conduct policy retroactively. That caused many to assume that Peterson immediately has been reinstated.

He hasn’t been. And whether that’s technicality depends on what the NFL does next.

Judge Doty didn’t reinstate Peterson. He concluded that the case is “remanded for such further proceedings consistent with this order as the CBA may permit.”

In many cases involving a reversal of a ruling, the “remand” is procedural. The tribunal whose decision is overturned routinely dots the right i’s and crosses the right t’s and then ends the case.

With Peterson, arbitrator Harold Henderson and/or the league office may not see it that way. Henderson and/or the NFL could try, for example, to argue that the ongoing suspension was justified by the pre-existing personal conduct policy.

But here’s the problem. It will be very difficult for Henderson to make a persuasive case that the suspension imposed on Peterson after his legal case ended, given that he already has served more than two games without pay (the existing precedent for first-offense domestic violence), the punishment under the prior personal conduct policy for violation of the already has been imposed on Peterson.

Unless the NFL can pull a legal rabbit out of its hat (or other orifice), the case is over and there’s nothing left to be done other than to reinstate Adrian Peterson.

That still may not be enough for a league that currently seems to like to make up the rules as it goes. But for a league that already has taken plenty of legal lumps in the past year, it would make sense not to try to play any games with Doty’s ruling.

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Greg Hardy preparing to seek immediate reinstatement

Hardy AP

Adrian Peterson’s win in Judge David Doty’s courtroom today isn’t just a win for the Vikings running back.

Other players who were stuck in commissioner’s exempt limbo caught a break as well.

A league source tells PFT that Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will seek immediate reinstatement, in time to become a free agent.

Hardy made $13.1 million, but played one game for the Panthers last year after domestic violence charges (which were later dismissed), and many teams were concerned about the possibility he’d be suspended upon signing any new deal.

The Panthers aren’t expected to pursue him regardless, but the possibility he might be eligible from day one will certainly help his market.

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Tom Benson’s request for expedited review in battle over control of assets denied

Tom Benson AP

On February 9, a judge in Bexar County, Texas ruled that Saints owner Tom Benson needed assistance in managing his assets and appointed two people to do that while Benson and members of his family continue their litigation in New Orleans over Benson’s decision to change his will to keep them from taking over the Saints.

Benson’s attorneys filed a request on Monday asking the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio to speed up the 60-day briefing process as they try to get the decision overturned. They cited the significant costs of nearly $20,000 a day being paid to the two men appointed to oversee the trust, ex-San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and San Antonio lawyer Art Bayern, and a failure to consider other remedies in their argument.

That request was denied on Thursday by a panel of judges, although they said that requests to extend the timeline would be frowned upon.

“Any such motion must provide evidence of extraordinary circumstances justifying the extension,” the order said, via the New Orleans Advocate.

Three physicians were chosen Wednesday in Louisiana to do a court-mandated mental evaluation of Benson, whose daughter and grandchildren contend he is not in sound mind to be making a decision to make business decisions.

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Adrian Peterson’s dad: This is a victory for all NFL players

Adrian Peterson AP

Judge David Doty’s ruling on Thursday that the NFL could not retroactively discipline Vikings running back Adrian Peterson under the terms of the league’s new personal conduct policy was quickly hailed as a victory of “fairness” by the NFLPA.

Peterson hasn’t issued any statement of his own yet, but his father Nelson gave Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press a similar take on Doty’s ruling.

“I’m happy and blessed that the judge saw this in Adrian’s favor and I see this ruling as not only a victory for Adrian but it’s a victory for all the players in the NFL,” the elder Peterson said.

The next steps for Adrian Peterson remain on hold since the NFL can appeal Doty’s ruling, but his father said that the Vikings “hold that card” whenever the time comes to make a decision about Peterson’s future because a contract’s in place through 2017. He repeated previous comments about no doors being closed regarding a return to the Vikings and no trade demand being made, although he also said that he’s heard “rumors” of interest from the Cowboys, Cardinals and Colts in a trade for his son.

All of that will have to wait until the NFL decides what action they’ll take in response to a ruling that might have pushed Peterson closer to a departure from Minnesota.

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Reports: Bills talking deal with Josh McCown

Josh McCown AP

The Bills are reportedly trying to add Josh McCown to their quarterback ranks.

The Associated Press reports Buffalo is trying to work out a contract with the 35-year-old McCown, who’s regarded as one of the top passers available in free agency.

According to Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News, a Bills agreement with McCown could occur Friday, an unnamed NFL source told the newspaper.

McCown started 11 games for the Buccaneers in 2014, completing 184-of-327 passes for 2,206 yards with 11 touchdown passes. However, he committed 18 turnovers. The Buccaneers released him on February 11.

McCown visited the Bills not long after being cut by Tampa Bay. He visited the Browns on Wednesday and Thursday but did not strike a deal with Cleveland.

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Chiefs to part ways with veteran tight end Anthony Fasano

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The free agent market continues to fill up, with more players being cut and getting a chance at an early glimpse.

According to Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network, the Chiefs are cutting veteran tight end Anthony Fasano.

Fasano caught just 25 passes, and scored four touchdowns for the Chiefs last year. He was scheduled to make $2.8 million this year, so they took the chance to get younger and cheaper.

The 30-year-old Fasano should still get some looks, and now he has a two-week head start on the rest of the free agent tight ends.

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Judge Doty finds NFL can’t apply new conduct policy retroactively


The 16-page ruling from Judge David Doty that reinstates Vikings running back Adrian Peterson turns on one fairly simple conclusion:  The NFL cannot apply its new personal conduct policy retroactively.

“There is no dispute that the Commissioner imposed Peterson’s discipline under the New Policy,” Judge Doty wrote. “It is also undisputed that in the [Ray] Rice arbitration, the hearing officer unequivocally recognized that the New Policy cannot be applied retroactively, notwithstanding the Commissioner’s broad discretion in meting out punishment under the CBA. . . . Consistent with that recognition, the Commissioner has acknowledged that he did not have the power to retroactively apply the New Policy: ‘The policy change was forward looking because the League is “required to provide proper notice.”‘ . . . Yet, just two weeks later, the Commissioner retroactively applied the New Policy to Peterson.”

In other words, Judge Doty concluded that the NFL was making it up as went along.

Some will surely criticize Doty for “rewarding” a man who spanking his four-year-old son until the boy’s legs bled. But this isn’t about criminal justice; this is about respecting the terms of the labor deal that the NFL and the NFLPA have negotiated. It may be easy for the NFL to impose stringent consequences based on the underlying facts, but that doesn’t justify violating a player’s rights.

Meanwhile, the NFL has appeal rights in this case. It’ll be interesting to see whether the NFL tries to get Judge Doty’s ruling overturned, or whether the NFL will attempt to erect other roadblocks to Peterson’s return to football.

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NFLPA quick to declare victory for Adrian Peterson, fairness

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It didn’t take long for the NFLPA to declare victory today, after Judge David Doty overturned the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said. “Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights.

“This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”

Of course, the league still has the right to appeal the decision, but it’s unclear what their plan is at the moment.

The only official word from the league is a brief “We will review the decision.”

Sof if you thought this game of legal football was over, we might just be getting to the fourth quarter.

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