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Bears stay alive by beating Lions, Giants are eliminated

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Chicago remains in contention for an NFC wild card berth, and the defending Super Bowl champion Giants have been eliminated, after the Bears beat the Lions 26-24 on Sunday in Detroit.

The Bears’ victory keeps them alive heading into this afternoon’s Packers-Vikings game, which the Bears now need the Packers to win. If Green Bay wins, the Bears are the NFC’s sixth seed. If Minnesota wins, the Vikings are the NFC’s sixth seed.

Sunday’s win wasn’t easy for Chicago: Although the Bears jumped out to an early 20-3 lead, the Lions came back in it and cut the deficit to 26-24 with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, the Lions’ offense went three-and-out when they got the ball back while down two in the fourth, then the Lions’ defense failed to stop the Bears from running out the clock.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who entered the game with an NFL-record 1,892 receiving yards this season, finished the game with 72 yards, meaning he fell short of 2,000 by 36. Johnson’s NFL record streak of eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games also comes to an end. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman did excellent work against Johnson in both of this season’s Bears-Lions games: Johnson averaged 53 yards in the Lions’ two games against the Bears, while averaging 133 yards a game in the Lions’ other 14 games.

For the Bears, today’s solid effort gives them a good chance of reaching the postseason, and also gives coach Lovie Smith a good chance of saving his job. For the Lions, a disappointing season has come to an end — a season when Johnson was fantastic, but there was little else to celebrate.

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Report: Raiders expect Latavius Murray to sign elsewhere

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Latavius Murray #28 of the Oakland Raiders carries the ball during the second quarter of the AFC Wild Card game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders returned to the playoffs in 2016 with the help of 12 touchdowns from running back Latavius Murray, but they reportedly aren’t planning on having him be part of the effort for a repeat trip to the postseason.

Murray is set to become a free agent next month and Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that the team expects he will sign with another team. Per Anderson, the team’s main focus on the contract front is on reaching extensions with quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack as they head into their fourth seasons.

Murray picked up 1,066 yards on 266 carries in 2015 and ran 195 times for 788 yards and those 12 touchdowns last season.

Anderson reports the Raiders will leave the door open for a return after Murray sees what’s available to him on the open market. Rookie Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington had success out of the backfield in complementary roles last year and the Raiders could look to this year’s draft for a bigger back to take Murray’s place in the mix.

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NFLPA shrugs at possibility of enforcement of federal marijuana laws

BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 09:  A participant smokes a marijuana joint while marching in the annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) on August 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Supporters of cannabis legalization are hoping legalized sale in parts of the USA will increase the likelihood of legalization in Germany. The city of Berlin is considering allowing the sale of cannabis in one city district.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the Trump administration strongly hinting that federal law banning marijuana use will be enforced in states where recreational use has been legalized, the NFL Players Association sees no issue regarding its current effort to loosen the league’s current marijuana prohibition.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah described the situation as “a CBA issue, not a law-enforcement issue” in a comment to the Denver Post.

“We are talking about how players get treatment under our jointly agreed upon drug policies, not any advocacy for federal vs. state statutes,” Atallah said.

Technically, he’s right. But the proliferation of state laws allowing marijuana use for medical or recreational reasons has created the perception that the NFL is out of touch and drifting from the mainstream on the issue. If, for example, the federal government were to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances, the NFL instantly would be under immense pressure to ditch the outdated Big Shield banishment of conduct that almost always happens away from work, often during the various months when players are left to their own devices.

If the White House stops the current legalization trend and whacks the seven states where recreational use is now legal, the NFL will remain justified to fold its arms tightly and insist on significant concessions to change the current rules. Which will make it harder for the NFLPA to nudge the league to change.

As a practical matter, no change at all is needed for the vast majority of NFL players. The smart ones who smoke marijuana know that they should stop smoking roughly a month before the opening of the annual window for the once-per-year drug test (PED testing can occur at any time) and quit until that one test happens. After that, the players can smoke at will until the following March — as long as they don’t get arrested or have a bag of weed fall out of their jackets and land on the shoes of the Commissioner.

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Marvin Lewis: Contract extension not “critical or crucial”

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 1:  Head Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals watches a replay as his team takes on the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) Getty Images

In late January, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said that he’d “like to agree” to a contract extension with the team because he thinks it would put “everybody’s mind at ease going forward for their futures.”

It’s now late February and the two sides haven’t agreed on a deal that would keep Lewis under contract beyond the 2017 season. Lewis still thinks a fourth extension in as many years would add a sense of security, but downplayed its importance coming off a year that saw the Bengals miss the playoffs for the first time in six years.

“I don’t think it’s critical or crucial,” Lewis said, via the team’s website. “If things work out we would look to do that. I think some people are sometimes more at ease with that. Maybe that’s not where we need to be. Maybe that’s not the right place for us to be right now … everybody is year-to-year, right?”

Going into next season with an expiring contract would certainly create a sense of urgency in Cincinnati, although one imagines that sense would exist under any circumstance as the Bengals close in on 30 years since their last postseason victory.

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After arrest, Ravens say they’re done with Matt Elam

Matt Elam AP

Technically, Matt Elam is still a Baltimore Raven. But in 11 days, he won’t be.

Elam, who was arrested on drug charges early this morning in Miami, becomes a free agent on March 9. And the Ravens issued a statement following his arrest making clear that they will not re-sign him.

“We are aware of the arrest of Matt Elam. Matt is not in our plans for the 2017 Ravens,” the statement says.

This morning’s arrest may be the reason the Ravens released that statement, but it’s far from the only reason the Ravens are finished with Elam. Their 2013 first-round draft pick, Elam has been a major disappointment. The team didn’t pick up his fifth-year option and probably wouldn’t have re-signed him at any price even if he had no off-field issues.

Elam might be able to sign on with some team if he’s willing to take a minimum-salary deal. But it’s possible that he has played his last game, thanks to problems both on the field and off.

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PFT Live heads to the Scouting Combine this week

PFTLive

Three weeks ago today, the 2016 NFL season ended. In just three days, one of the three major offseason tentpole events arrives.

It’s the Scouting Combine, and PFT Live will be broadcasting from Indianapolis on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. As usual, we’ll be on from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 ET on NBC Sports Radio, with a re-air from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET. The final two hours of the live show, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. ET, will be simulcast on NBCSN.

Every hour of every show also becomes a podcast, which can be downloaded at iTunes or audioBoom. (Subscribe now. Subscribe now. Subscribe now.) Also, most if not all of the face-to-face interviews eventually will be posted at PFT.

The guest list is still being negotiated and finalized; the confirmed roster includes Falcons coach Dan Quinn, Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Rams coach Sean McVay, Broncos coach Vance Joseph, Bills coach Sean McDermott, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, Broncos G.M. John Elway, Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman, and Jaguars G.M. Dave Caldwell.

That’s 14 for now, and others will be added once the arrangements are nailed down. It’s a fluid process that often has coaches and General Managers pop in; chances are that we’ll end up with between 25 and 30 by the time the dust settles.

Thanks in advance to those teams who choose to make their coaches and General Managers available for conversations with PFT Live. For those who have declined this time around, we hope to persuade you to join us at the league meetings next month in Arizona or at some other point in the future.

For those who always decline, we’ll keep on asking. Because you miss 100 percent of the shots where the puck is going to be. Or something.

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2017 49ers already have outspent 2016 49ers in free agency

JAMESTOWN, CA - APRIL 29:   "How To Find Gold" booklets on display at Gold Prospecting Adventures on April 29, 2011 in Jamestown, California. As the dollar continues to fall gold continues to rise settling at a record high $ 1,556.40 an ounce at the close of the market on Friday April 29, 2011. Gold is considered the ultimate storer of wealth bringing out more part time prospectors to strike their claims. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images) Getty Images

Free agency hasn’t even begun yet, but the 2017 49ers are making their mark. How much of a mark have they made? Already, more than they did in all of 2016.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com points out that the 49ers under new G.M. John Lynch already have spent more in free agency than G.M. Trent Baalke did a year ago. Just this week, the 49ers signed defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (formerly of the Dolphins) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (formerly of the Browns).

In 2016, the 49ers added one veteran free agent: Offensive lineman Zane Beadles.

Because both Mitchell and Williams were released by their respective teams, their arrivals won’t count toward the formula that will determine the 2018 compensatory draft picks. (Beadles had been released a year ago, too; the 49ers ended up with an extra fourth-round pick in 2017 due to the departure of guard Alex Boone.)

With $38.7 million in cap space carried over from 2016, the 49ers will have plenty more money to spend as they try to improve on a 2-14 debacle of a year ago. But spending money on newcomers is just one piece of a team-building puzzle that for most successful franchises continues to be based on drafting and developing their own young players.

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Jets decline Erin Henderson’s option

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19:  Linebacker Erin Henderson #58 of the New York Jets walks off the field after being injured during the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 19, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Jets 22-18.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets made headlines by releasing center Nick Mangold on Saturday, but that wasn’t only decision they made regarding a veteran’s future with the franchise.

According to multiple reports, the Jets have decided not to pick up the option on linebacker Erin Henderson’s contract for the 2017 season. That will make Henderson an unrestricted free agent next month.

Henderson only played in five games last season before being placed on the non-football injury list for reasons that weren’t publicly disclosed. He played all 16 games for the team in 2015 and spent six years with the Vikings before missing the entire 2014 season following his release in the wake of a DUI arrest.

The move creates $2.57 in salary cap space for the Jets, who have been in cost-control mode of late with the departures of Henderson, Mangold, Breno Giacomini, Ryan Clady and Nick Folk.

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Sunday morning one-liners

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 1:  Vincent Rey #57 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will S Robert Blanton be back with the Bills?

A couple of guards that could interest the Dolphins in the draft.

Any NFL prospect with a lacrosse background is going to hear about Patriots WR Chris Hogan.

C Nick Mangold’s time with the Jets has come to an end.

Ravens FB Kyle Juszczyk is headed for free agency.

CB Dre Kirkpatrick may be leaving the Bengals next month.

Browns DT Danny Shelton would love to see more defensive linemen arrive in the draft.

Pass rushing remains an area the Steelers would like to improve.

A review of the Texans wide receivers.

One player can’t fix the Colts, but nailing their first-round pick would still help.

Will the Jaguars consider a running back in the first round?

Assessing the need for a new backup for Titans QB Marcus Mariota.

Setting the stage for the Broncos ahead of the combine.

Running through some mock draft predictions for the Chiefs.

Raiders G Kelechi Osemele is having an adventurous offseason.

Which needs will the Chargers address in the draft?

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson celebrated the 25th anniversary of a Cowboys Super Bowl title together.

Alabama TE O.J. Howard pops up on a list of draft prospects for the Giants to ponder.

A look at what the Eagles may do at safety this offseason.

Linebackers for the Redskins to watch at the combine.

Bears RB Jordan Howard donated $10,000 to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in honor of his late father.

The Lions have cap space to make moves in free agency.

The Packers got a fifth-round compensatory pick after losing CB Casey Hayward in free agency last year.

The oversight board for the Vikings stadium is at full strength after new additions.

Extensions will keep a couple of potential Falcons free agents off the market.

Darrel Young could be the Panthers’ fullback in 2017.

Will the Saints pay up for a pass rusher in free agency?

The Buccaneers need to find some new playmakers.

A special teams primer for the Cardinals.

The Rams may not have a first-round pick, but they still have plenty to do at the combine.

Free agency hasn’t opened, but the 49ers have already been busier than they were in last year’s session.

Offensive line isn’t the only area the Seahawks need to address this offseason.

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Bleacher Report caves in to Mark Cuban, a bad sign for sports media

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17: Owner Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks reacts during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the NFL banned Barstool Sports from covering Super Bowl week events, PFT made an issue of it because we think independent media should be able to cover the sport without constraints from the league. Now the NBA has provided an example of what can happen when a sports league gets too heavy-handed with the media, and the media lacks the will to push back.

Bleacher Report has deleted a tweet joking about Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks shooting an airball, not because there was anything wrong with the tweet, but because Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told them to, and they didn’t have the guts to stand up to Cuban’s bullying.

It started on Friday night, when Bleacher Report tweeted a short video clip of Nowitzki’s airball with the caption, “DIRK FOREVER.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We frequently laugh about players making mistakes. Bloopers are some of the most popular sports highlights.

Cuban, for some reason, took offense. And instead of shooting back at Bleacher Report with a tweet of his own and being done with it, Cuban decided to flex his muscles, perhaps knowing that Bleacher Report wouldn’t have the stomach for a fight with him. Cuban sent a profane email to Turner President David Levy (Turner is Bleacher Report’s parent company) and copied NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, ordering Bleacher Report to take the tweet down. Cuban made a vague threat that he would “communicate with the millenials [sic]” if Bleacher Report didn’t comply.

If Bleacher Report had any integrity, Levy would have told Cuban that independent media outlets don’t take orders from the people they cover, and that would have been the end of it. Amazingly, Bleacher Report followed Cuban’s orders, deleted the tweet and put up a fawning tweet about what a legend Nowitzki is.

That is a shocking capitulation and raises some ugly questions about Bleacher Report. We know about this time that Bleacher Report backed down to a powerful owner because this particular powerful owner chose to publicize it. What we don’t know is this: How many other times has Bleacher Report quietly backed down to owners or leagues? How many critical stories have Bleacher Report writers worked on, only to have the higher-ups put the kibosh on them when an owner or commissioner caught wind of it? If Bleacher Report is too spineless to stand up for itself on something as innocuous as a tweet about an airball, how quickly does Bleacher Report fold when there’s a complaint about something really serious?

And it relates to the NFL because, we’re happy to say, we’ve never encountered anything like this in the football world. We hear from NFL owners, teams, league executives, players and coaches who are unhappy with something we publish from time to time, but a demand from an owner to delete a tweet, coupled with a veiled threat, is something we haven’t experienced.

If we did, we’d stand up for ourselves. If we get something wrong we of course correct the record, but we don’t change what we publish simply because a thin-skinned owner doesn’t like it.

It’s important to have independent media outlets that aren’t afraid to step on a few toes, and won’t kowtow to the establishment. That’s why we thought the NFL stepped wrong when it banned Barstool Sports: Once a league starts picking and choosing which outlets can cover it, it begins to go down a dangerous path toward the league is dictating the coverage.

That’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. With the NBA and Bleacher Report, it’s a line that has already been crossed.

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Ravens’ Matt Elam arrested on drug charges

Antonio Brown, Matt Elam AP

Ravens safety Matt Elam has been arrested on drug charges in Miami.

According to Miami-Dade police records, Elam was booked at 3:45 a.m. today on charges of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis, possession of cannabis with the intent to sell or deliver, and possession of a controlled substance.

Police say they initially pulled Elam over for reckless driving and found 126 grams of marijuana and three grams of oxycodone in his vehicle.

The 25-year-old Elam was the Ravens’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The Ravens did not pick up Elam’s fifth-year option, so he becomes a free agent next month.

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Jaguars grew tired of “non-existent” blocking from Julius Thomas

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 11: Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on from the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on August 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Jaguars 17-13. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Julius Thomas is on the way out in Jacksonville, just two years into a five-year contract. A big part of the reason for that is he never became the receiving threat for the Jaguars that he had been for the Broncos.

But another part of it is that the Jaguars grew tired of Thomas’s limitations as a blocker, and the effect that had on the Jaguars’ offense.

His blocking was non-existent,” a source told the Florida Times-Union. “If he was on the field, he was the second tight end and that meant a receiver came off the field and the team speed went down. And if he was on the field with Robinson, Hurns and Lee, it was a clear giveaway to defenses that it was a pass or a run away from him because he couldn’t be at the point of attack.”

Thomas will now go to Miami, where head coach Adam Gase, who previously coached Thomas in Denver, apparently thinks he can make it work with a tight end who is a liability on running plays.

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Jerry Jones: No decision has been made regarding Tony Romo

Former Dallas Cowboys, from left to right, Charles Haley shows a painted portrait of Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones to Jones, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett during the 25th Anniversary of Super Bowl XXVII at Gilley's in Dallas, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP) AP

The Cowboys celebrated on Saturday night the 25th anniversary of their 1992 Super Bowl championship team. Looming over the franchise continues to be the immediate future of the best quarterback in franchise history to not win a Super Bowl.

His future is undecided, according to the man who will eventually decide it.

Via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, owner Jerry Jones said no decision has been made regarding the future of quarterback Tony Romo.

It’s believed that Romo wants to be released. The Cowboys presumably want to get something in return for him. It won’t be nearly as easy as flipping a switch; if the Cowboys intend to trade Romo to a place where he doesn’t want to play, the new team may not be all that enthused about finalizing the transaction.

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Trevor Siemian sheds his sling

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 06:   Trevor Siemian #13 of the Denver Broncos warms up on the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian paid a visit to PFT Live during Super Bowl week, he was wearing a large sling on his left arm after surgery to repair his AC joint. The sling has now been shed.

Siemian gave Troy Renck of Denver7 an update regarding his status.

I am out of the sling and everything is going really well so far,” Siemian said. “I should be good for OTAs but we’ll see. I’ll touch base with the [doctor] at the end of March and see how I am doing.”

Whether Siemian is available for the offseason program should go a long way toward determining whether he’ll be a viable contender to remain the starter. With a new coaching staff and a new offensive system, second-year first-rounder Paxton Lynch could get a leg up if Siemian’s left arm keeps him from getting reps during Organized Team Activities.

Potentially complicating the competition is the possible arrival of a veteran like Tony Romo or Jay Cutler.

Regardless of which quarterbacks are taking the reps in the offseason, Siemian’s chances of playing in September will be boosted if he’s able to practice in April, May, and June.

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Civil lawsuit against Pouncey twins set for trial on March 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 09: Center Maurkice Pouncey #53 of the Pittsburgh Steelers lines up against the New York Jets during a game at MetLife Stadium on November 9, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) Getty Images

At a time when their former Florida teammate is facing a much more serious criminal trial, NFL offensive lineman Maurkice and Mike Pouncey soon will be standing trial in a civil case arising from a 2014 brawl at their birthday party.

Per multiple reports, the trial against the twins starts on March 6 in Miami-Dade County. The case brought by Ricquan James and Niya Pickett claims that the Pounceys  and their security team beat the plaintiffs and subjected them to homophobic slurs. Among other things, the lawsuit specifically contends that Steelers center Maurice Pouncey (pictured) punched James in the face and said that James “was ruining his party by acting gay.”

At the 2013 edition of their birthday party, which happened not long after Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder in Massachusetts, the Pounceys created a stir by wearing “Free Hernandez” hats. While the Pounceys faced no criminal charges, the lawsuit could end up being far more costly than whatever they have incurred in legal fees — especially with a standard of proof that is far less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Will Jets release Darrelle Revis before they have to?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 18:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets looks on after a game against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium on October 18, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether the Jets will keep or cut cornerback Darrelle Revis. They have until March 11 to decide whether to pay a $2 million roster bonus for the privilege of paying him a $15 million base salary in 2017.

They owe him $6 million in fully-guaranteed base salary even if they cut him, but with offset language in the deal, they can recoup some of that based on what he earns elsewhere.

What he earns elsewhere will be maximized the earlier the Jets release him. Releasing him early gives him an enhanced chance to get even more than $6 million in 2017, since it would give him a head start on free agency.

So with long-time Jets center Nick Mangold cut on Saturday, giving him nearly two weeks before the 2017 free agents can be signed, will the Jets extend the same courtesy to Revis?

It helps Revis but, given the offset obligation, it helps the Jets, too. This assumes that the Jets can look past any frustration or resentment with Revis and make a decision that helps both sides.

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