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NFLPA overstates outcome of bounty case, too

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The NFL has been trying to paint Paul Tagliabue’s decision in the bounty case as something other than a Cornell-Hofstra slaughter.  Still, the other parties in the case are making more of the outcome than perhaps they should.

Said the NFLPA on Tuesday:  “Vacating all discipline affirms the players’ unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged ‘intent-to-injure’ were utterly and completely false.  We are happy for our members.”

But nothing contained in the 22-page ruling from Tagliabue show that any of the allegations were “utterly and completely false.”  Indeed, the characterization that the decision makes the allegations “utterly and completely false” is, well, “utterly and completely false.”

Moreover, the use of the term “intent-to-injure” introduces a new term to what has been a game of semantics.  The players had called the program “pay-to-injure” while the league had referred to it as “pay-for-performance” and a “bounty.”

Either way, Tagliabue exonerated only one player:  Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, whose one-game suspension arose from the notion that he didn’t try to stop the programs that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had put in place.  Even then, Tagliabue didn’t claim the allegations against Fujita were false, “utterly and completely” or otherwise.

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Talk persists of an NFL team moving to London

Osborne Getty Images

If one or two NFL teams move to Los Angeles, the NFL will need a new potential destination to which an owner can threaten to move his franchise if/when efforts to finance a new stadium with public money fail.

Playing the role of Los Angeles once the NFL returns there could be London.

Despite many logistical issues that would seem to make it ultimately impractical, talk persists of a team moving to London.  According to the London Evening Standard, Chancellor George Osborne says he has pledged full backing of the British government to a potential franchise move.

“This is primarily a decision for the owners of the clubs and the NFL organisation but I’ve said to the NFL that anything the Government can do to make this happen we will do, because I think it would be a huge boost to London,” Osborne said.  “We could have not just the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of NFL games but also God Save The Queen.”

So when could it happen?

“I think that there’s a chance in the next few years to get an NFL team for London,” Osborne said.  “There are 32 teams in America — and one of them could be a London team.  That’s a serious prospect.”

“We warmly welcome the Chancellor’s strong support for the possibility of an NFL team in London and look forward to welcoming him to a game at Wembley over the next few weeks,” the league said in response to Osborne’s remarks.  “Our key priority is to continue to build our fan base in the UK so that there is strong demand for any future plans in London.  We will do this by ensuring that we are able to offer top class action on the field and brilliant events — which include the fan rally at Trafalgar Square on Saturday — off it.  We are looking forward to two exciting upcoming games in London and are committed to further strengthening the links between the NFL and our UK fans.”

The NFL began its London series in 2007, with one game per year.  Last year, the NFL increased to two.  This year, the total inventory has increased to three.

An alternative to moving a team to London continues to be playing up to eight games per year there, each involving different teams.  The primary challenge to that approach comes from persuading enough teams to give up periodic home games.  Recently, the NFL moved a step in that direction by requiring all Super Bowl host teams to give up a home game to London.

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Buccaneers sign linebacker Orie Lemon away from Chiefs

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The Bucs filled an unexpected roster spot Thursday, finding another defensive player to take the spot created by Da’Quan Bowers‘ two-week PED suspension.

The team announced they had signed linebacker Orie Lemon off the Chiefs practice squad.

Lemon has bounced around, doing two stints each with the Cowboys and Chiefs, along with going to camp with the Cardinals last summer.

The former Oklahoma State standout was waived/injured by the Cowboys this year, prior to hooking up with the Chiefs again.

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Calvin Johnson ramping up his practice work in London

Britain Lions Football AP

The Lions might not have Reggie Bush available Sunday morning in London, but it’s looking like there’s at least a chance that Calvin Johnson will be back on the field.

According to Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, Johnson did more in practice Thursday than he has recently, planting and cutting on his high right ankle sprain.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell still sounded cautious, but the trend is good after he was limited Wednesday.

“The big thing is, typically when they ramp up their activity that way, the most important thing is what they feel like the following day,” Caldwell said.

“And today he came back feeling good, so that’s encouraging. We knew he was coming along and to have him have an opportunity to take part in a little bit of practice [Wednesday] was good. As they see it, they’ll ramp him up a little bit more today and see how he looks tomorrow. We’ll go from there.”
Johnson said things were “moving in a positive direction,” but he’ll probably still be a game-time decision Sunday.

“Like I said, it gets better and better, like right now it’s getting better on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “As long as we can keep up with that progression, we’ll see.

“We haven’t pushed it too much, we don’t want to get to that point where we get a setback. Like I said, it’s getting better and better. I want to push it, but we are just trying to be smart about it. I’m trying to take good advice from our training staff that they’re giving me and go with that.”

Caution is wise with guys coming off injury, and the temptation to give him another week is reasonable, given this week’s opponent.

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Ultimately, De Smith may decide to question Goodell

Executive director of the NFL Players Association Smith and NFL Commissioner Goodell speak outside the NFL Players Association Headquarters in Washington Reuters

We know that Commissioner Roger Goodell will testify in the Ray Rice appeal hearing.  We still don’t know with certainty who will ask the questions.

One source with knowledge of the situation says it will be NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler.  Another source says Rice’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, also will pose questions to Goodell.

And now comes the curve ball.  Yet another source tells PFT that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has not yet ruled out handling the questioning himself.

Smith, a practicing lawyer before becoming the NFLPA executive director, routinely adds his own name to the roster of lawyers handling a given case.  It allows Smith to directly participate as an advocate, if he so chooses.

Given the broader relationship between Smith and Goodell, it probably makes sense for Smith to defer to Kessler or Ginsberg.  Either would be capable of asking the right questions without undermining the ability of Smith and Goodell to work productively and cooperatively in the future.

If Smith decides to question Goodell, it would represent a belated turning of the tables, sort of.  In 1981, Paul Tagliabue cross examined NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw in the Raiders’ lawsuit against the NFL, nine years before Tagliabue became the NFL’s Commissioner.

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Taylor Lewan not set for trial after all

Green Bay Packers v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan will not have to spend his bye week on trial after all.

Lewan, the Titans’ first-round draft pick this year, had a trial on an assault charge scheduled for next week. But Lewan’s lawyer said today that the trial is off. Lewan apparently reached some type of settlement with the two people who accused him of assault, and they no longer wish to pursue criminal charges.

“We asked the judge to cancel next week’s trial with anticipation of putting that resolution on the record a week from today. That’s where things stand as of today,” attorney John Shea said, via the Tennessean. “Still some final steps being taken, but the parties anticipate the case will officially and on the record be resolved a week from today.”

Lewan has played in all seven games this season and started the last two. The alleged assault took place last year, before Lewan was an NFL player, and is not expected to result in a suspension.

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Reggie Wayne misses practice for second straight day

Reggie Wayne AP

When the Colts held wide receiver Reggie Wayne out of practice on Wednesday, it was difficult to know how much of a role his injured elbow played in their decision.

Wayne typically gets a veteran’s rest day on Wednesday and both he and coach Chuck Pagano downplayed the significance of the injury after he sat out the session. Still, the team was concerned enough to send Wayne for an MRI early on the week and even a relatively insignificant injury can be enough to keep a player out for one week.

The possibility of that outcome seems a bit likelier now that Wayne has missed practice on Thursday as well. Tom James of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star reports that Wayne watched his teammates go through practice from the field and that he didn’t have a wrap or anything other than a compression sleeve on the injured elbow.

If Wayne doesn’t play, it could mean an expanded role for Hakeem Nicks. Nicks signed as a free agent in the offseason after a disappointing year with the Giants in 2013 and has 17 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.

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Jadeveon Clowney will be surprised if he doesn’t play this week

Jadeveon Clowney AP

Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been out since the first week of the regular season because of a knee injury, but he’s been drawing closer and closer to making his return in the last couple of weeks.

Clowney was listed as questionable heading into last Monday’s game against the Steelers, but the team opted to leave him inactive when they took the field in Pittsburgh. Clowney said Thursday, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, that he would be surprised if things played out that way again this week.

While his knee remains sore, Clowney said that he feels ready to “push through it” and return to the lineup against the Titans this weekend.

Coach Bill O’Brien termed Clowney’s chances of playing “decent” earlier this week and also said that it wasn’t a guarantee that Clowney would take a spot with the starters upon his return to week. That makes sense since Whitney Mercilus has played well and it’s been a long layoff, but first overall picks don’t remain on the bench long so we’d expect to see a healthy amount of Clowney if the Texans deem him healthy enough to play.

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Saints defense implements “Operation: Feed Drew”

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints defense had forced two turnovers on the season heading into last week’s game against the Lions, a number they doubled against Detroit by picking off two Matthew Stafford passes.

That helped lead to two short fields for the Saints, something they hadn’t experienced in their first five games of the season, and they were able to turn those turnovers into 10 points. The result of the game wasn’t what the Saints wanted as the Lions came back to win after Drew Brees threw an interception of his own, but members of the defense know that the odds are in their favor if they can get Brees the ball in advantageous situations more often.

That’s why they’ve instituted “Operation: Feed Drew” in New Orleans.

“We have to keep taking those,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said, via the Baton Rouge Advocate. “The more chances he gets to score the ball, the better chance we have at winning.”

The nascent operation could find the sledding tough this Sunday. The Packers have turned the ball over four times all season, which may leave Brees to feed himself in a game that’s probably going to take a lot of points for the Saints to win.

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Harry Douglas back at practice on Thursday

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Lions and Falcons are preparing to face off in London this Sunday and there’s been a lot of attention paid this week to whether or not the Lions will have wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush available for the game.

The Falcons have some uncertainty surrounding the status of one of their key offensive players as well. Wide receiver Harry Douglas has missed the last four games because of a foot injury, but made the trip to London with the team and was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice.

Coach Mike Smith said no decision would be made on Douglas (or defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who missed a second straight practice) until the team gauges the response to this week’s practice work.

“We’ll have to see how both those guys handle their workload over the next couple of days to see what their game status will be,” Smith said, via the team.

How much getting Douglas back will help an offense that’s still dealing with a porous offensive line remains to be seen, but the Falcons would surely prefer to be as close to 100 percent as possible as they try to avoid a fifth straight loss.

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PFT Live: Denard Robinson, Week Eight picks

Cleveland Browns v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Jaguars got their first 100-yard rushing game of the year last Sunday against the Browns, but it didn’t come from offseason free agent acquisition Toby Gerhart.

It was former Michigan quarterback and 2013 fifth-round pick Denard Robinson that did the honors and helped the Jags to their first victory of the season. Robinson will join Mike Florio on Thursday’s edition of PFT Live to talk about getting that victory, his transition to running back and what he thinks the rest of the 2014 season holds for a young Jaguars team.

The Jaguars face the Dolphins in a battle for Florida bragging rights this Sunday and that will be one of the 15 games that Florio and MDS are predicting winners for this week. They’ll share their choice for that game and the reasoning behind that choice during our weekly picks segment.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Gruden hints at Week 11 return for Griffin

Griffin AP

When a report emerged that Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III plans to return from a dislocated ankle in Week Eight against the Cowboys, a source with knowledge of the situation promptly said it was too early to know when Griffin would return.

The source suggested that Week 11 makes more sense, given that it comes after the bye week and entails a visit from the Buccaneers.

Coincidentally (or not), coach Jay Gruden recently hinted that Week 11 could be the date on which Griffin returns to action.

“I would guarantee Tampa, most likely, unless something happens between now and then,” Gruden told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday.  “You’ve got a good bye week, you’ve got a couple weeks to make sure it’s ready.  Obviously Robert is a quick healer.  He works extremely hard in the training room.  So the process could be sped up a little bit depending on how he feels.”

If the team learned anything from last year’s goofy “Operation: Patience” and “All In For Week One” mantras, it’s that real patience is critical to the healing process.  Gruden wisely has tapped the brakes not by pointing at the scars of the Shanahan regime but by emphasizing the importance of practice reps to a quarterback’s ability to play.

“[T]he quarterback position is very delicate,” Gruden said.  “You need your reps to play, and play successfully.  You can’t just throw a guy out there without the reps, and the practice time, and the continuity with the receivers and the backs and the tight ends.  So it’ll be a little bit of a process — probably a little bit more than people think — but we’ll play it by ear and see how he’s doing on a daily basis.”

In other words, it’s highly unlikely that Griffin will play in Dallas on Monday night, and nearly as unlikely that he’d play on a short week in Minnesota the following Sunday.

Waiting until after the bye gives Griffin more than three more weeks not only to heal but also to prepare.  Which will help ensure that, when he plays, he’ll play at his best.  Whatever his best may be.

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Lions’ LaAdrian Waddle returned to game after concussion

waddle AP

Lions right tackle LaAdrian Waddle returned to the field for Detroit’s final kneeldown on Sunday against the Saints despite suffering a concussion on his previous play, an extra point that gave the Lions their game-winning point in a 24-23 win.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Lions coach Jim Caldwell and G.M. Martin Mayhew both claimed the Lions follow the NFL concussion protocol “to the letter” even as they acknowledged that Waddle returned to the field with a concussion.

“We knew exactly when it occurred and what happened within the context of it,” Caldwell said. “It was the last play of the game for him. It was actually on a field goal, the PAT at the end. It’s the last play of the game for him.”

But if Waddle got a concussion on the PAT, why did he return to the game for the kneeldown on the Lions’ final possession?

“Well, in terms of they knew exactly what happened to him in terms of he banged his head on the ground after where he gets up,” Caldwell said. “It wasn’t to the point where they thought he was concussed at that time. The final snap of the game, we knew it was only one snap, then the doctors reviewed him, took a look at him, it wasn’t one of those situations where he felt he had to go in the locker room right away. But they did know he banged it when he came off, and that he was good.”

You could argue that it was just a kneeldown and so Waddle wasn’t at much risk, but there’s no “just a kneeldown” exception to the NFL’s concussion rules. And you could also argue that when it’s just a kneeldown, that’s all the more reason that the team should show an excess of caution and not put a player on the field when he had just suffered a hard hit to the head on his previous play. The Lions may say they follow the concussion rules to the letter, but they got this one wrong.

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Reggie Bush held out of practice, Calvin Johnson returns for Lions

Reggie Bush. Keenan Lewis AP

The Lions suddenly have another injury situation to monitor with one of their offensive stars.

Via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, running back Reggie Bush did not practice today.

Bush did limited work on Wednesday, making his absence today more of a concern.

The ankle problem he’s dealing with caused him to miss the second half of last week’s comeback against the Saints, as well as the entire week before.

Of course, if they get Calvin Johnson back, he won’t be as missed. Johnson reportedly did more at practice today, and could be close to a return.

But the fact the Lions came back to beat the Saints last week without Bush or Johnson speaks to the maturation of the team as a whole, as well as quarterback Matthew Stafford.

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Arbitrator also requires Newsome, Cass to testify

Newsome AP

Wednesday’s preliminary victory by the NFLPA and Ray Rice didn’t consist only of a requirement that Commissioner Roger Goodell testify in the appeal hearing regarding the indefinite suspension imposed on Rice.  The union and Rice also secured the ability to question two key members of the Ravens organization.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones has required Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome and Ravens president Dick Cass to testify at the appeal hearing, which currently is set for November 5-6.

Judge Jones declined to require testimony from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh, and director of security Darren Sanders.

The roster of witnesses expected to testify at the hearing also includes Ray Rice, NFL senior V.P. of labor policy and government affairs Adolpho Birch, and NFL V.P. of security Jeff Miller.  It’s also possible that Janay Palmer Rice will testify, given that she, Ray, and Goodell reportedly had a private discussion regarding the incident that resulted initially in a two-game suspension, and then in an indefinite suspension.

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Broncos table contract talks with Demaryius and Julius Thomas

Denver Broncos vs New York Jets, NFL Getty Images

Broncos boss John Elway earned his reputation as a closer, primarily for landing quarterback Peyton Manning in free agency.

But he’s going to have plenty of work to do this offseason to maintain that image.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Broncos have tabled contract talks with both wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, as both play out their contracts this season.

They’ve negotiated with both players, but with no resolution imminent, have decided to wait until the offseason.

That’s a bold play, considering they’d have to get at least one of them done to be able use the franchise tag on the other, and both sides know that.

There’s also the small matter of wide receiver Wes Welker’s expiring deal, but he won’t be nearly as expensive or difficult to reach or replace.

It’s a risky hand of cards, but Elway plays at the high stakes table, and is used to winning.

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