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Smith, Hargrove accept Tagliabue’s decision, withdraw motion to vacate

Will Smith AP

For three of the players whose suspension were overturned by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the bounty case is finally over.

As to Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who was fully exonerated by Tagliabue, there’s nothing for Fujita to challenge in court.  As to Saints defensive end Will Smith and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove, their names were not cleared, because Tagliabue concluded that they both engaged in conduct detrimental to the league.

A source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Smith and Hargrove will not be challenging Tagliabue’s decision in court.  They both believe that they have been vindicated by Tagliabue’s 22-page ruling.  Tagliabue concluded that it was “inappropriate” for Goodell to “singl[e] out” Smith for discipline “when most or all of the Saints’ defensive unit committed the same or similar acts as those underpinning the discipline of Smith.”  As to Hargrove, Tagliabue decided that it wasn’t clear that Hargrove lied to investigators, because it’s unclear what NFL investigators asked him in March 2010.

Consequently, the motion to vacate the arbitration ruling, previously filed by the NFLPA on behalf of Fujita, Smith, and Hargrove, has been withdrawn.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whom Tagliabue also ruled engaged in “conduct detrimental,” could decide separately to attack the arbitration award, in an effort to obtain full exoneration and vindication.  Or he could seek his vindication via the defamation lawsuit.

Since Vilma is operating on his own, he’ll have to decide whether he wants to spend additional legal fees even though he no longer faces any potential financial loss.  Given that Vilma seems to be very concerned about clearing his name, it wouldn’t be a shock if chooses to fight Tagliabue’s ultimate finding.

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Justin Tuck: Ndamukong Suh fits the Raider mold

Ndamukong Suh AP

The Raiders have a lot of cap space at their disposal this offseason and defensive end Justin Tuck knows how he’d like the team to spend some of it.

Speaking from the Super Bowl on Thursday, Tuck shared his thoughts on the impending free agency of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. While he thinks you could “probably do without” some of the on-field tactics that have landed Suh in trouble during his career, Tuck said Suh is a “hell of a football player” whose overall game makes him seem “to be an Oakland Raider.”

“[He’s] Raider-ish,” Tuck said, via the Detroit Free Press. “And that’s one of the reasons why I know Raider Nation would applaud that move, beyond the fact that he’s an awesome football player. He kind of fits the mold of … the toughness and the ferocious player that built the Oakland Raiders.”

It would help to know who will be running the defense, but adding Suh to a defensive front that features 2014 first-round pick Khalil Mack, linebacker Sio Moore and Tuck would seem to be a step in the right direction for a team that gave up the most points in the league last season.

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Vermeil blames “poor management” for changes in San Francisco

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Former Eagles, Rams and Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil doesn’t care for the way Jim Harbaugh was treated on the way out the door in San Francisco.

Vermeil said on PFT Live that the 49ers should have shown enough respect for the work Harbaugh did to hold onto him.

“San Francisco was a mess before Jim Harbaugh took over. He straightened it out,” Vermeil said. “To me, that should never happen.”

Vermeil believes that if the 49ers’ management is committed to winning, then the 49ers need to find a way to make things work with a successful coach like Harbaugh.

“To me, it’s poor management. It’s probably more personal than anything. But if you’re mature you’ve got to be able to work those things out,” Vermeil said.

The 49ers’ management couldn’t work things out with Harbaugh. If Jim Tomsula doesn’t have the kind of success in San Francisco that Harbaugh did, plenty of San Francisco fans will agree with Vermeil, and blame owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke for poorly managing Harbaugh’s departure.

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Chargers add Mike Nolan as linebackers coach

Mike Nolan AP

The Chargers added some experience to their coaching staff, landing former Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to coach their linebackers.

He replaces Joe Barry, who left to become Washington’s defensive coordinator.

“Mike is a tremendous coach with a wealth of experience and he’ll be a great addition to our coaching staff,” head coach Mike McCoy. “I’ve known him for many years having coached both with him and against him and it’s great to have him here with us with the Chargers.”

Nolan has 28 years of coaching experience, with 17 in the NFL and a largely unfortunate stint as the head coach of the 49ers.

He was the defensive coordinator in Denver in 2009, when McCoy was the Broncos offensive coordinator.

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A.J. Green on Andy Dalton: You can’t blame one person for playoff losses

Andy Dalton, A.J. Green AP

The Bengals lost their playoff opener for the fourth straight season, leading to a renewed wave of opinions that quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t the right player to lead the team where they want to go.

Wide receiver A.J. Green took issue with that view during an appearance on PFT Live on Thursday. Green told Mike Florio that the Bengals have lost those games in all three phases of the game.

“In those big games, we haven’t played well as a football team. I think you can’t blame one guy for us losing those games,” Green said.

You wouldn’t expect Green to say that Dalton’s the only reason the team has lost and he certainly doesn’t sound like he’s in a hurry to find a new place to play. He told Florio that he hopes to reach agreement on an extension to remain in Cincinnati this offseason. To see what else Green shared, including his love of juggling, check out the video below.

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Josh Gordon: I failed myself again, but I will persevere

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has received plenty of criticism since word broke recently of a one-year suspension for a failed test for alcohol use and he answered some of his critics in an open letter on Medium.com on Thursday.

In the letter, which is addressed to Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter and “other interested parties,” Gordon took issue with those who claim he has substance abuse problems. He explained that he had several drinks on a flight to Las Vegas after the end of the season and then received a notice to report for testing after he arrived.

“In the end, of course, I failed myself,” Gordon wrote. “It doesn’t matter if I thought that the league-imposed restriction on drinking had expired at the end of the regular season; what matters is that I didn’t confirm whether or not that was the case. Now, that oversight has further jeopardized my relationship with my team and our fans, my reputation, and maybe even my career.”

Gordon writes that “words cannot express” his remorse and regret for putting himself in this position while outlining other times that he’s failed to take advantage of the opportunities his football ability has provided him. He’s also adamant that those criticizing him don’t know his entire story, much of which he details, and vows to persevere to a future he believes is bright.

“What I do know is the following: I am not a drug addict; I am not an alcoholic; I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analyzed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete. And … I am not going to die on account of the troubled state you wrongly believe my life to be in. I am a human being, with feelings and emotions and scars and flaws, just like anyone else. I make mistakes  —  I have made a lot of mistakes  —  but I am a good person, and I will persevere.”

There’s a lot more to the letter and there’s ample time for a 23-year-old to make good on that vow, but Gordon’s reached a point where actions, not words, will determine where his life goes from here.

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Tom Brady hopes Peyton Manning comes back next year

New England Patriots Vs. Denver Broncos At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Tom Brady wants Peyton Manning to come back.

And not just because he kind of owns him.

The Patriots quarterback had kind words for his Broncos counterpart, who hasn’t made a firm announcement about his future plans.

What a great player that he’s been for this league,” Brady said when asked abut Manning, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “He’s a great competitor. I’ve been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back, because the league will miss him if he doesn’t. But those decisions are up to him. I’m sure it’s up to whether he’s mentally and physically, if that’s what he wants to do. But I certainly hope he’s back.”

The respect is real, but the record is one-sided.

Brady and Manning have played 16 times in their career, and Brady owns an 11-5 edge in those head-to-head matchups.

With a record like that, it’s no wonder Manning wants to keep him around.

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Aaron Hernandez murder trial gets underway

Aaron Hernandez AP

While many of Aaron Hernandez’s former Patriots teammates are preparing to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Hernandez is in a Massachusetts courtroom for the first day of his trial on charges that he murdered Odin Lloyd.

The trial got underway on Thursday after a slight delay caused by the failure of one member of the 18-person jury to appear for service. That juror was replaced and the attorneys for both sides delivered their opening statements.

In his opening, prosecutor Patrick Bomberg said, via the Boston Globe, that Hernandez and two other men took Lloyd “to a secluded, isolated area in North Attleborough, a town where Odin Lloyd knew no one but the defendant and the defendant’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. There Odin Lloyd was shot 6 times. He was killed and he was left in a secluded area.”

Bomberg said that a joint with DNA from Hernandez and Lloyd was found near Lloyd’s body, a footprint at the scene matched Hernandez’s sneakers and that surveillance video from Hernandez’s home security system shows Hernandez, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace returning to Hernandez’s home without Lloyd shortly after the crime allegedly occurred.

Hernandez’s attorney Michael Fee countered by saying that the investigation was “sloppy” and that the evidence against his client is circumstantial. Fee also argues that the prosecution has not found a motive for Hernandez to murder someone he describes as a friend who Hernandez smoked marijuana with frequently.

Several members of the Patriots organization and former pro and college teammates of Hernandez’s are on the witness list for the trial. Wallace and Ortiz will be tried separately.

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Reporter who broke #DeflateGate says fans have threatened him

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When you’re in the news business, you anticipate blowback when you break a story that casts someone in a negative light.

But Indianapolis writer Bob Kravitz, who works for television station WTHR, said he was floored by the volume of response from Patriots fans after he wrote the first story about #DeflateGate.

“Feedback? Hell, it’s been a tsunami of hatred,” Kravitz said, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “My office voice mail is full. My emails are overflowing from New England fans. The tweets are just out of control. It’s gotten very personal, very mean-spirited, some anti-Semitic remarks, some threats to my well-being, but, then, I didn’t expect otherwise.

“I’ve been in the business for over 30 years and I’ve developed some very thick skin over the years. I’m a big boy; I can handle it. I’ll say this: New England fans are among the most vocal and passionate I’ve ever seen, which is a good thing.”

Kravitz said the last week and a half “has been the most insane period of my professional life.”

“Other writers keep jokingly coming up to me and saying, “This is all your fault,’’ but I’m quite sure this story would have gotten out whether I reported it or not,” he said. “An NFL investigation into allegations of cheating is a big thing; surely, someone would have caught wind of it. As it happened, I’m the one who heard about it and confirmed it and reported it — accurately, I might add.”

That reporting has caused many Patriots fans to misplace their anger, with social media giving the bullies a louder voice.

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Marshawn Lynch to reporters: I ain’t got nothing for you all

marshawn AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch made his final media appearance of Super Bowl week, and it was the strangest one yet.

Lynch turned the tables on a few reporters who gathered around his podium, asking them why they felt the need to continue peppering him with questions when he had already made it clear he wasn’t going to answer.

“All week I done told you all what’s up. And for some reason you all come back and do what you did,” Lynch told the assembled media. “I don’t know what image you all are trying to portray me, but it don’t matter what you all think, what you all say about me. Because when I go home at night, the people I look in the face, my family, that I love, that’s all that matters to me. So you all can go make up whatever you’re going to make up”

Lynch indicated that it angers him that reporters won’t respect his privacy.

“I come to you all’s event, you all shove cameras and microphones down my throat,” Lynch said. “I ain’t got nothing for you all. . . You all will sit here doing the same thing. I’m here preparing for a game.”

Lynch set a timer on his table and sat there for only five minutes. At about the two-minute mark, he indicated that his patience was already wearing out.

“I’m not about to say nothing. So for the remainder of my — what’s that, three minutes? — because I’m here, I’m available for you all. All my requirements are fulfilled. So now for the next three minutes I’ll just be looking at you all like you’re looking at me.”

Lynch did answer one question directly: When a reporter asked him where to buy Beast Mode gear, Lynch answered, “Beastmodeonline.com.”

And then his five minutes were up, and he left. He won’t have to face reporters again until after the Super Bowl.

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Carroll says refs will help Seahawks figure out Patriots’ formations

Carroll Getty Images

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is confident that his defense won’t be confused by the Patriots’ unusual formations in the Super Bowl, thanks to some help from the officials.

The Patriots have successfully disguised which players are eligible receivers and which players are ineligible receivers in this year’s playoffs. But Carroll said at his press conference today that he’s been told that the officials will do a more thorough job of making it clear to the defense which receivers are eligible, and which players are lined up in ineligible positions.

The NFL rules are clear: Players with ineligible jersey numbers must report to the referee if they’re going to line up as eligible receivers, and players with eligible jersey numbers must report to the referee if they’re going to line up in ineligible positions. The referee, in turn, must announce those declarations. But in this year’s playoffs, both the Ravens and the Colts have been confused by the Patriots’ formations, which have included trick plays with running back Shane Vereen lined up as an ineligible lineman, and plays with lineman Nate Solder lined up as an eligible receiver.

Now, according to Carroll, the officials will change their mechanics so that it’s clearer to the defense whether each player is eligible or ineligible. That’s an advantage to the Seahawks, and something the Ravens and Colts wish would have been done for them.

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Nick Foles expects to be back in Philadelphia next year

Foles AP

Yes, Nick Foles has heard the trade rumors. But no, he’s not worrying about them.

While making the rounds at radio row this morning, the Eagles quarterback said he expects he’ll still be the Eagles quarterback come next year.

“Yeah you hear about it,” Foles said, via Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. “You are going to hear about it every single year. That’s just part of it. The main word is ‘rumor.’ You can’t put too much into it. . . . I plan on being in Philly.”

With Foles’ inconsistent play before his broken collarbone, and the easy dot-connecting from Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to coach Chip Kelly, it’s reasonable to think his future might not be so secure.

But until Foles hears from Kelly, he’s not going to put much stock into any of the reports.

“I only listen to Chip Kelly. That’s what is most important. He is the one that will make the decision,” Foles said. “Right now all I am going to do is work because I plan on being back in Philadelphia and playing with my team. That’s all I ever thought. So that is what I plan on doing and I’m not looking at it any other way.”

Of course, Foles opened the door to a lot of this speculation himself. He threw 10 interceptions in eight games before his injury, after throwing two picks and leading the Eagles to the playoffs the year before.

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League says incidents of racial slurs on field dropped sharply

Kaepernick Getty Images

Either the NFL is becoming a more respectful place, or players just want to keep their money in their pockets.

According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the number of on-field incidents involving racial slurs and abusive language dropped sharply this season.

The league enacted rules to punish players who used slurs during games, and told the Fritz Pollard Alliance that there were only six incidents this year, down from 29 during the 2013 season.

“I think it says very clearly that the players understand the gravity of what we’re trying to do,” said John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. “I think the clubs and everyone else are to be congratulated. The key thing here is we’re talking about respect. It’s about respect and dignity. Ideally it should be zero. But it’s headed in the right direction.”

While the rule created a gray area that many thought officials would struggle with, the numbers indicate that the rule’s working. It’s unclear where Colin Kaepernick’s penalty falls on their scale, since he was penalized for it on the field but later had his fine cut in half.

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Bruce Irvin sees Seahawks’ defense as one of the all-time greats

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin thinks Seattle’s defense is one win away from establishing a legacy as one of the all-time greats.

“I definitely feel like we’ll go out as one of the top defenses to ever play the NFL,” Irvin said. “But, we got to win first. I don’t want to talk about winning the game. We just got to prepare and keep practicing. Those guys are a really good team so we got to stay focused and really bust our tail if we really want to win Sunday.”

Irvin said he believes that not only do the Seahawks have the best starting 11 in the NFL, but they have plenty of backups who would be starters on other teams.

“I think on defense we go 13, 14 or 15 deep so we got our twos and threes can be starters somewhere else,” Irvin said.

Can the Sehawks be remembered alongside the Steelers of the 1970s and the Bears of the 1980s as the greatest defenses in the history of the sport? If they were to shut down Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back Super Bowls, it would be hard to argue against them.

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Richard Sherman won’t say if he’ll miss Super Bowl for son’s birth

sherman AP

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and his girlfriend are expecting a baby soon, and Sherman isn’t saying if he’d miss the Super Bowl if the baby comes on Sunday.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Sherman said, via ESPN. “We’re not thinking about the possibility.”

Sherman’s girlfriend, Ashley Moss, is in Arizona and will give birth at a local hospital if she goes into labor in the next five days.

Having a son on the way put Sherman in a contemplative mood.

“It’s someone that actually depends on you for everyday living,” Sherman said. “Everything they do is dependent on you and how you provide and how successful you are.”

Some NFL players have missed games for the births of their children, and some NFL players have missed the births of their children for games. But we’ve never heard of a player grappling with that decision before the Super Bowl. It’s a decision Sherman hopes he doesn’t have to make.

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Belichick on Junior Seau: “I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach him”

Super Bowl XLII Getty Images

We will learn Saturday whether the late Junior Seau is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.

This morning, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the former New England linebacker’s legacy, as well as what it would mean to have the 12-time Pro Bowler in the Hall of Fame.

Here was Belichick’s response:

“Well, it’d mean a lot. I mean, it’s obviously got to happen,” Belichick said of Seau, who played for New England from 2006 through 2009 after a decorated career with San Diego. “I can’t imagine having a professional football hall of fame without Junior Seau in it.

“I’d say the one word that comes to me when I think about Junior and football (is) passion. He’s a very passionate guy, lot of energy, lot of enthusiasm, first guy in the building in the morning, watching film, lifting weights, ready for practice — always loved to practice — flying around on the practice field, energy before the game, on the sideline, during the game. Emotional player, but a smart player, player that played with a purpose, played with good physical skill but also good concentration, good awareness. Great team player, very supportive of his teammates.

“I mean, everybody in the locker room loved Junior. They loved what he did, and they loved the way that he interacted with the team. He was a great player, and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach him.

“We had a lot of great experiences together. Obviously, it was the end of his career. There were some things a little different than when he was in San Diego and so forth, but he brought a lot of energy and passion to our team, and I personally had a very good relationship with Junior.

“I love coaching him, and he always expressed how much he enjoyed playing on the New England Patriots, and that meant a lot to me.”

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