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Steelers release Hoyer for some secondary depth

Charlie Batch, Brian Hoyer AP

In a clear sign they think quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is fine, the Steelers released backup quarterback Brian Hoyer Saturday.

According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, they promoted cornerback Josh Victorian from their practice squad when making the move.

They still have Charlie Batch in reserve, although Byron Leftwich didn’t practice Thursday or Friday as he recovers from his own rib injury.

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Jaguars owner says they won’t cut Justin Blackmon

Shad Khan

The Jaguars have every pragmatic reason to distance themselves from Justin Blackmon.

But owner Shad Khan said he’s not about to release his former first round pick, who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL and was arrested for marijuana possession last night.

We want him to get help he needs,” Khan said, via John Oehser of the team’s official website.

That sentiment seems to be consistent through the organization, as linebacker Paul Posluszny said: “This is no longer a football issue…We want the best for him. He’s a good kid at heart.”

It’s good to hear the Jaguars embrace a kid (it’s hard to call him a player, since he’s barely played for them since his rookie year) who obviously has some problems.

He showed flashes of talent in 2012, when his play might have justified their investment in him. If he had torn an ACL, they’d have gone to great lengths to get him well, so they could benefit from his labor in the future.

But Blackmon’s problem now is not a physical one, and we hope the Jaguars are sincere in getting him the help he needs, even if he never plays another down for them.

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Rice suspended two games, fined a game check

ray-rice Getty Images

The reports regarding the two-game suspension to be imposed on Ravens running back Ray Rice were mostly accurate, but ultimately incomplete.  The league has announced that Rice will be suspended two games and also fined an additional game check.

The decision will result in $705,0882 in lost salary for Rice.  The Ravens also could try to recover $352,941 of Rice’s $15 million signing bonus, paid in 2012.

Since the Ravens play on Thursday night in Week Two, he’ll be back on Friday, September 12, before the rest of the league has played its second game.

“As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to Rice.  “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”

The suspension has been widely criticized as being too soft, even though the league-owned network has described the punishment as an example of the NFL’s iron fist.

That’s an unfortunate metaphor in cases of domestic violence.  In this specific case, many would also say it’s inaccurate.

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John Harbaugh: Ray Rice is a heck of a guy who made a mistake

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp Getty Images

Ravens coach John Harbaugh is standing behind running back Ray Rice, who was suspended for the first two games of the regular season for assaulting his wife.

Harbaugh said today that he and his team would get past the suspension and continue to support Rice, one of the team’s veteran leaders.

“It’s not a big deal, it’s just part of the process,” Harbaugh said, via ESPN. “There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence. I think that’s good for kids to understand it works that way. That’s how it works, that’s how it should be.”

To many, Harbaugh’s comments will come off as too supportive of Rice, and not reflective enough of the gravity of the situation. That’s also a criticism the Ravens as a franchise received when they arranged a press conference for Rice and his wife in May. Whether Harbaugh meant it this way or not, calling Rice’s crime a “mistake” suggests that it was a relatively minor transgression, and saying that it’s good for kids to learn from it suggests that there’s some kind of silver lining to this story. Harbaugh’s comments struck the wrong note.

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Five questions: Kansas City Chiefs

Reid Getty Images

The Chiefs followed a disastrous 2-14 season with an unlikely trip to the playoffs, followed by an even less likely 38-10 lead at Indy, capped by an even less likely second-half collapse.

For Year Two of the Andy Reid/John Dorsey regime much higher than a year ago, the bar moves higher.  Possibly, too high.

Here are five questions we (or at least I) have about the 2014 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs.

1.  Did they take too many hits in free agency?

A whopping 60 percent of the team’s offensive line bolted for bigger dollars in free agency, led by left tackle Branden Albert.  The team now hopes that Eric Fisher, the first overall pick a year ago, will be able to play better on the left side of the line than the right, where he struggled as a rookie.

Also gone is Dexter McCluster, a versatile weapon who may or may not be replaced effectively by rookie De’Anthony Thomas.

On defense, lineman Tyson Jackson and safety Kendrick Lewis signed elsewhere, and cornerback Brandon Flowers was cut late in the offseason.

The departures, which weren’t offset by many free-agent arrivals, will make it harder to run the streak of playoff appearances to two.

2.  Can they put the playoff collapse behind them?

Maybe it’s good that so many of the old players are gone.  It’ll make it a little easier to get past the playoff collapse if guys who weren’t part of it aren’t still around.

But plenty are still there, and they’ll need to learn from what happened against the Colts without having a wedge arise between the offense and the defense.  Otherwise, whenever the offense builds a lead in 2014 and the defense starts to blow it, “Here we go again” will be the refrain (spoken or otherwise) up and down the Kansas City sideline.

The offense will likely follow the lead of quarterback Alex Smith on this point, especially since his stellar day (378 passing yards, 57 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, no interceptions) was barely noticed in the aftermath of one of the most deflating losses in franchise history.  If he stays positive when the defense starts to show signs of falling apart, others will be inclined to do the same.

3.  Is Alex Smith the answer at quarterback?

There’s a chance Smith eventually won’t be the guy leading, or cutting off, resentment of defensive failures.  Andy Reid has shown over the last 15 years a knack for getting great performances out of any and every quarterback he coaches, and rookie Aaron Murray could easily become Big Red’s next star pupil.

Smith has one year left on his contract, with the two sides still far apart.  If Smith won’t do a deal on the team’s terms, the team could turn to Murray.

And if the 2014 season goes south quickly, Murray may get a chance at some point to show what he can do before the Chiefs have to essentially choose between Smith and Murray.

4.  How good will Dee Ford be right away?

Before the draft, Dee Ford declared he’s better than Jadeveon Clowney.  Chiefs owner Clark Hunt cautiously has compared Ford to the late Derrick Thomas.

If Ford lives up to either of those assessments, the Chiefs will be able to let Justin Houston walk in free agency and install Ford as the four-letter complement to Tamba Hali.

Or maybe it’s Hali who’ll become expandable after the 2014 season, with the Chiefs opting for the two youngest options at pass rusher.  If we’ve learned nothing else in the past few years, it’s that no high-priced veteran on any team is safe.

5.  Are they nearly done with Dwayne Bowe?

Speaking of high-priced veterans who may be in danger of not being with the team, receiver Dwayne Bowe could be on the outs.  With $11 million in cash due come 2015, Bowe may be on the verge of being a former Chief if he doesn’t increase the production in 2014.

His first season under a five-year, $56 million contract resulted in only 57 catches for 673 yards.  That’s 13 fewer catches and 20 yards less than running back Jamaal Charles, who also ran the ball for 1,287 yards.

Bowe knows that his time is running short if he can’t produce a better return on the investment the Chiefs made not long after Reid and Dorsey arrived.  Otherwise, that cash and cap space will go to someone else.

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Terrance West removed from non-football injury list

Terrance West AP

Terrance West’s stay on the Browns’ non-football injury list was a short one.

The Browns announced Thursday that West, a rookie tailback from Towson, has been removed from the list, clearing the way for him to be on the practice field when Cleveland’s training camp practices begin Saturday.

According to multiple reports, West’s inclusion on the list was related to the club’s conditioning test, but the matter looks to have been quickly squared away — good news for a rookie who could challenge for major work in Cleveland’s backfield.

Three other Browns — offensive lineman Chris Faulk, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel and offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren — were also taken off the non-football injury list and added to active roster, the club said.

The Browns also announced they had waived running back Jourdan Brooks and wide receiver Kenny Shaw. This leaves Cleveland with four open roster spots.

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Jonathan Stewart out a couple of weeks, Edmund Kugbila out for year

Jonathan Stewart, Lavonte David AP

The Panthers dealt with injuries to running back Jonathan Stewart and members of their offensive line throughout last season and they aren’t wasting much time picking up where they left off.

Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman said on Thursday that Stewart injured his hamstring recently and will miss a week or two of camp while he recovers. The team doesn’t feel it is an overly serious injury, so Stewart will remain on the active roster as opposed to being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Whether or not this specific injury is serious, it is part of a pattern that doesn’t bode well for Stewart earning a big role in a backfield that also features DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. He’s played just 15 games over the last two years and has averaged under four yards a carry both seasons while dealing with a variety of aches and pains.

Gettleman also announced that guard Edmund Kugbila will have back surgery in August and miss the entire season. The 2013 fourth-round pick missed his rookie season because of a knee injury and his absence exposes a few more ribs on an already thin offensive line.

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Carl Nicks excused from reporting to Bucs camp for personal reason

Carl Nicks AP

Buccaneers guard Carl Nicks did not participate in voluntary work with the team this spring and wasn’t able to practice during the team’s mandatory minicamp because of the toe injury and resulting staph infection that wiped out his 2013 season, but said in June that he felt like he would be ready to participate in training camp.

The Bucs reported for work on Thursday, but Nicks wasn’t among the players checking in for camp. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that coach Lovie Smith said that Nicks was excused for the day because of personal reasons.

“It’s part of life. Things come up,” Smith said.

Because of the toe injury, the Bucs have gotten very little return on their free agent investment in Nicks two years ago. He’s played in just nine games for the team and it will continue to be unclear whether he’ll provide much help in the future until he actually gets back on the football field. Smith indicated that Nicks was only excused for Thursday, so Friday should bring more word on how Nicks is feeling and what his future in Tampa looks like.

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Panthers following NFL’s lead on Greg Hardy punishment

Carolina Panthers v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

It’s a banner day for women everywhere around the NFL.

After Ray Rice’s two-game suspension for knocking his wife unconscious (Hey, she apologized), it now appears the league’s other star abuser of women is going to continue to make his full $13 million this year.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman indicated the team was not going to suspend defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted last week on charges of assaulting his girlfriend and communicating threats.

“We’ve been in touch with the league, . . . we have to respect the legal process,” Gettleman said.

Hardy has appealed his conviction, and will get a jury trial next. But that’s unlikely to happen before January, which means the Panthers will likely have Hardy available this season.

The franchise-tagged defensive end will make $13.1 million this season, or just over $770,000 per week.

They could conceivably suspend him up to four games for conduct detrimental to the team, but teams always prefer to leave such cases to the NFL. And as today’s ruling in the Rice case shows, that punishment will come later, if it’s felt at all.

Considering they’ve made no effort to reach a long-term contract with Hardy, who could be an unrestricted free agent again next year, they might never have to feel it, either.

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Frank Gore not ready to give up heavy workload

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers have accumulated quite a bit of depth behind running back Frank Gore over the last few years, leading some to wonder if 2014 will be the year when the longtime workhorse starts to cede more of the workload to other backs.

If it is up to Gore, the wait will last a little longer. Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde and LaMichael James are all on the roster and looking for playing time, but Gore has no plans on stepping aside so someone else can do the heavy lifting.

“I’m from Miami,” Gore said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I’ve been competing ever since I left high school. I’ve been with top guys who’ve been in the league. I’m up for it. One day, they’re going to get this role. But I’m here, and I’m going to make it a challenge.”

Gore is 31 and coming off a year that saw him take three-quarters of the team’s offensive snaps, the second-most of his 49ers career, so his overall workload will likely drop during the season. If he’s still as effective as he was last season, though, the drop probably won’t be a particularly dramatic one since the 49ers know that they can win with Gore leading the way on the ground.

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Get ‘em while they’re hot: Buy your ladies’ Ray Rice gear

pinkray

The league’s in house network referred to the “iron fist of the NFL” this morning while discussing the pending two-game suspension for the Ravens running back Ray Rice.

But that iron palm can still be greased, mind you.

In case you wanted to show your support for the Ravens running back during his time off for knocking his wife unconscious, you can order your very own Ray Rice ladies’ jersey from the team store, for the low price of $94.95.

Or even better, you can order the shimmering pink one (with the sassy laces to cover up your cleavage) from the league for only $59.95.

Those will be perfect for the warm autumn afternoons of October, when the league goes to great pains to remind you it supports breast cancer research.

If only they showed as much respect for the rest of the woman.

Photo credit: NFLShop.com

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John Harbaugh: Aaron Ross suffers torn Achilles

Aaron Ross, Ted Ginn AP

The Ravens’ cornerback depth has taken a hit at the outset of training camp.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced Thursday that ex-Giant Aaron Ross suffered an Achilles tendon tear during the team’s conditioning test, the club’s official Twitter feed said.

The Ravens signed the 31-year-old Ross in June to compete for a reserve role behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. However, the Achilles injury seems likely to end Ross’ season.

A first-round pick of the Giants in 2007, Ross has made 52 regular season starts, notching 250 tackles and intercepting 11 passes.

Veteran cornerback Dominique Franks, who’s also competing for a job, has not yet passed his conditioning test, Harbaugh said, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

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Manziel won’t get first-team reps right away

Pettine AP

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel got plenty of first-team reps during offseason workouts.  He won’t be getting any in training camp, at least not initially.

He will get reps with the ones at some point,” coach Mike Pettine told Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com.  “But early on . . .  we only talked about how we would handle things very early in camp and then make that assessment after the first off day and then have a plan for the scrimmage [on August 2].  We’ll see where he is coming out of the summer.”

The summer break began with Manziel defiantly saying at the Rookie Symposium that he won’t be changing his off-field ways for anyone.  Grossi asked Pettine whether he was surprised by that.  But Pettine seems to still be OK with Johnny Football being Johnny Vegas or Johnny Rolled-Up-Hundy or Johnny Whatever when he’s off the clock.

“Yeah, but I think it still needs to get to a point where if it’s affecting his job, that he’s in a situation where he goes out and has a good time, are there other players in the NFL that do that? Absolutely,” Pettine said.  “But his persona, and it’s a phenomenon, has created something where people seek those photographs and are very eager to put them out.  Does he go out more than some guys?  Maybe.  But he’s young and that’s his lifestyle and it is the offseason.  If this is a pattern during the season and it is affecting his work, then that’s much more cause for concern. . . .  To me, his life as an NFL player truly starts now and he’ll be judged on that. And if we get the hint that there’s behaviors affecting his work or there’s criminal activity then absolutely there’s cause for concern.

And that’s precisely why the NFL should quit testing guys for recreational drugs, especially in the offseason.  Teams don’t care about what a guy does unless and until it affects his job or his freedom (which in turn affects his ability to show up for his job).  If the individual teams don’t care about anything more than that, why does the collection of 32 teams care?

Of course, Pettine does indeed have a concern about the photo of Manziel tightly rolling up a piece of paper money.  Pettine confirmed to Grossi that player and coach talked about it.

“I felt very positive coming out of the conversation and I’m very confident moving forward, now that it’s 100 percent about football, that it will be much less of an issue,” Pettine said.

If it’s truly 100 percent football, it shouldn’t be an issue at all.  And if Manziel hopes to be like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, it needs to be 100 percent football far more often than when it’s football season.

And when football season starts, it currently appears Manziel will be on the bench.  Pettine admitted that his goal of naming a starter sooner than later favors Brian Hoyer.

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Cowboys place Ronald Leary, Anthony Spencer on PUP list

Anthony Spencer AP

The Cowboys offensive line should be one of the team’s biggest strengths this season while the defensive line looks like one of their biggest weaknesses, but they have something in common as the team starts camp.

Both units will be shorthanded as David Moore of the Dallas Morning News reports that guard Ronald Leary and defensive end Anthony Spencer have both been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Spencer’s appearance on the list was expected as he continues to rehab from the microfracture surgery he had on his knee last October. Spencer is hopeful that he’ll be ready to go come the start of the regular season and the Cowboys are hopeful to have him on their shaky defensive line, but it will be a while before it becomes clear whether or not that’s a possibility.

Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com reports that Leary strained his hamstring during the team’s conditioning test earlier this week, leading to his placement on the PUP list. Both players can be activated at any time. The same is true of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who has been placed on the Non-Football Illness list.

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Report: Justin Houston arrives at Chiefs camp

Justin Houston AP

Another potential holdout has died a whimpering death.

According to Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star, Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston has reported to Chiefs camp.

We noted last week that Houston wasn’t expected to hold out, even though he wants a new deal.

One of the most underpaid members of the Chiefs, Houston would have faced $30,000 a day fines if he didn’t show, and wouldn’t have created any amount of good will toward the organization which recently rewarded running back Jamaal Charles.

Perhaps playing nice will hold the same benefit for Houston, while he toils on the last year of his rookie contract.

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Rice will lose more than $470,000 due to suspension

Ray Rice AP

Apart from missing a pair of games and necessarily hurting his team, Ravens running back Ray Rice will lose plenty of money.

At a base salary of $4 million for 2014, the forfeiture of a pair of game checks will keep $470,588 out of Rice’s pocket.  (It’s also possible that Rice’s punishment will include a fine in the amount of one or more additional game checks; for now, the reports have focused only on the suspension.)

Of course, Rice also has received $25 million in the last 24 months, which undoubtedly is one of the reasons why the Ravens are standing behind him.  If they hadn’t already given him so much money and/or if they didn’t still think he can move the chains, the team would be moving on.

Indeed, if the Ravens had gone with a back-loaded deal instead of a ridiculously front-loaded package, the Ravens possibly wouldn’t be quite so understanding and supportive of a guy who knocked a woman out in a public place.Rice has appeal rights under the personal-conduct policy.  Given the justifiable criticism of the decision to suspend him only two games, Rice’s best play could be to accept the penalty and move on.

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