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Brennaman and Billick get bumped up to a playoff broadcast

Super Bowl XLVI Getty Images

Playoff time is usually not a time when you opt to make big changes with the things that you didn’t bother altering during the regular season, but FOX is throwing caution to the wind next weekend all the same.

Neil Best of Newsday reports that FOX has shuffled the order of their broadcast teams for the Divisional Playoff round. Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick will call one of the games for the network with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman handling the other game. That means FOX’s longtime No. 2 broadcast team of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa will be benched for the playoffs.

“We thought both broadcast teams had very strong years and decided to give Thom and Brian the opportunity to call a playoff game this season,” Fox spokesman Dan Bell said.

Bell probably won’t find much support on the assertion that the Albert/Moose/Goose team had a very strong year. I’ve never been a fan of the crew, especially Siragusa’s almost universally unhelpful interjections from field level, and it’s tough to think of anyone I’ve ever spoken to that had strong positive feelings about the work done by the trio. Brennaman and Billick don’t draw universal raves, but there’s a lot less animosity to their presence than there is for a group which could be set up for a push down the roster in 2013.

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A deal now helps Russell Wilson in two important ways

Russell Wilson

Despite the apparent willingness of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to play in 2015 for $1.5 million and to change teams if need be in 2016, signing a contract before the regular season begins carries a pair of significant benefits for Wilson.

First, and as previously mentioned, signing a contract before the 2015 season shifts the injury risk away from Wilson. Absent a new deal, Wilson will be in jeopardy of not only a career-ending injury (for which he obviously has insurance) but also a career-altering injury, which would allow him to keep playing but make him far less desirable financially.

At some point between now and the first week of the regular season, the Seahawks undoubtedly will offer something to Wilson that will be lower than what he’d like to have, but that also would be dramatically more than anything he’s ever made playing football. And then he’ll have to decide whether to continue to assume the injury risk for only $1.5 million — or to accept the offer and the immense financial security that goes with it.

There’s a chance Wilson’s extreme confidence will cause him to bet on himself, refusing a great-but-not-top-of-the-market offer, believing that he won’t suffer a serious injury, and pushing the negotiations toward a potential February clusterfudge for the Seahawks, with Wilson’s price tag shooting through the roof and applying the exclusive version of the franchise tag and trading Wilson becoming a viable option for the Seahawks.

Second, and as mentioned on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio by Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com, doing a deal now gives Wilson a large amount of money that otherwise will forever disappear.

A long-term deal averaging a legitimate $20 million per year gives Wilson $18.5 million more this year than he otherwise will make. On a five-year deal, for example, that approach simulates Wilson playing for $1.5 million in 2015 and $24.625 million per year in each of the next four.

That’s what a five-year, $100 million deal can do. And agent Mark Rodgers can sell it as a four-year, $98.5 million extension. The new-money average of $24.625 million would Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, making Russell Wilson the highest-paid player in the league by $2.4625 million per year.

It would a win for both sides, and it would hinge entirely on Wilson ripping up the last year of his rookie deal instead of swapping it for the kind of leverage that would get him a lot more than $98.5 million from 2016 through 2019.

Bottom line? If Wilson doesn’t accept whatever the Seahawks put on the table before Week One, the stage will be set for Wilson getting much more than $25 million per year by next season, from the Seahawks or someone else.

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Texans don’t dump Brandon Ivory, yet

Ivory

When word emerged that Texans defensive lineman Brandon Ivory faces a charge of first-degree burglary, it seemed likely that the Texans would quickly dump the undrafted rookie. So far, the Texans haven’t.

“The Houston Texans are aware of the police report regarding DT Brandon Ivory in Tuscaloosa, Ala.,” the Texans said in a statement. “At this time, we will have no further comment until we gather all of the relevant facts.”

They’ll likely be gathering the relevant facts quickly. Training camp opens soon, and HBO camera and microphones will be present. Unless the Texans concluded during the offseason program that Ivory is poised to become a star player, it will be a surprise if Ivory is.

Apart from the P.R. consequences of having on the roster a player accused of an armed home invasion, keeping Ivory around could mean paying him while he’s on mandatory leave pending the resolution of the charges.

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Brandon Magee still waits for NFL call, would give up baseball

Brandon Magee Getty Images

In March, the Buccaneers released linebacker Brandon Magee. The next day, he reported for Red Sox training camp.

The offseason program came and went without any team offering Magee an NFL job. In the interim, Magee has kept playing baseball — continuing with Boston’s Class A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners.

Bating .250 through seven games, Magee took a few minutes before his team’s latest game to visit with PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. And Magee made it clear that, if/when an NFL team would offer Magee a roster spot, he’d give up baseball in an instant.

On one hand, the fact that Magee (who has played for the Browns and Bucs) doesn’t have one of 90 roster spots is a red flag. On the other hand, once training camps open and players start going full speed in pads, injuries will happen. It could just be a matter of time before Magee gets another chance to return to pro football.

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Jim Harbaugh takes half the blame for awkward radio interview

A Seattle Seahawks fan holds a sign referring to San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, during their NFL football game in Seattle, Washington

The low-water mark of the NFL offseason news cycle was filled in part by a cannonball from former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, via an awkward interview with Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio. The interview also provided plenty of free P.R. for both participants in the clumsy back-and-forth for which most people are blaming Harbaugh.

Harbaugh has now accepted the blame. But only so much of it.

“In my experience of participating in interviews, I’ve found it takes 2 to produce a clunker!” Harbaugh said on Twitter.  “I’ll take 50% responsibility 4 this clunker.”

That leaves 50 percent of the responsibility for Cowherd. Some may say that’s too much for Cowherd. Others would say it’s not enough.

Ultimately, the onus is on the interviewer to draw out the person being interviewed. Cowherd erred by leading with his chin, asking Harbaugh when he’s at his “least intense” and that if he ever says to himself, “‘Oh, man, I’m cupcake. I’m soft. I’m easygoing.’ When’s the part of the day when you’re a pushover?'”

But Harbaugh isn’t new at this. He has been interviewed by many different people over the years, in many different settings. He had a chance to present himself in a certain way, and he ended up presenting himself in a certain other way, thanks to an overriding desire to compete in each and every situation.

On one hand, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. On the other hand, any elite high-school football players or their parents who heard Harbaugh may be less inclined to choose Michigan after hearing the interview. Chances are they won’t be more inclined.

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Judge upholds Aaron Hernandez murder conviction

Aaron Hernandez AP

A bid by former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to have his conviction on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Odin Lloyd has been denied in Massachusetts.

Hernandez’s attorneys filed motions asking Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh to set aside the jury’s verdict and find Hernandez not guilty of murder and one of the gun charges he was also convicted of in April because the state “utterly failed” to prove its case. Garsh didn’t agree with their argument.

“Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the court finds that a rational jury could find that the Commonwealth proved every essential element of the crimes charged in counts 1 and 2 beyond a reasonable doubt,” Garsh wrote, via the Hartford Courant.

The defense attorneys also asked Garsh to reduce the first-degree murder charge because the crime did not “deviate in any drastic sense” from those resulting in second-degree murder charges. That request was also denied, but Hernandez can still pursue an appeal while also preparing for a December trial on charges that he murdered two other men in July 2012.

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Emmitt Smith withdraws as Miss USA judge after Trump controversy

Emmitt Smith Visits FOX Business Getty Images

Emmitt Smith is the latest person to distance himself from Donald Trump.

Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, was scheduled to be a judge in this year’s Miss USA pageant. But that pageant is owned by Donald Trump, who has stirred controversy since making negative comments about Mexicans while announcing that he is running for president.

As a result, NBC has announced it will not televise the pageant, and Smith (whose wife was first runner-up at the 1994 Miss USA pageant) has decided not to participate.

“In light of Mr. Trump’s statements and the subsequent decisions made by NBC, I have decided not to participate as a judge in the 2015 Miss USA pageant,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “Knowing firsthand through my wife, Pat Smith, how much the women prepare for this event, I continue to send my support and best wishes to everyone competing this year.”

This year’s Miss USA, which is scheduled to take place on July 12, is without a TV home.

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Texans rookie Brandon Ivory arrested on first degree burglary charges

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwnkyjc2nthkzme0zmvjnmi0yze5ntk3odq3mti4nmm3 AP

This is how to not make a good impression in the month off before training camp.

Via Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, Texans rookie defensive lineman Brandon Ivory was arrested on first degree burglary charges.

Ivory, who went to Alabama, was arrested in Tuscaloosa this morning. According to the police report, he and another man broke into a residence by kicking in the back door, one carrying an assault rife. After assaulting one person, they took cash and two iPads before fleeing in a 2003 Toyota Corolla.

He was signed as an undrafted rookie this year.

And because he occupies one of the lowest rungs on the organizational ladder, it’s easy to imagine his stint with the team might not be a long one.

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Gloria Allred slams NFL for letting C.J. Spillman play in 2014

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

With free-agent defensive back C.J. Spillman now officially charged with sexual assault, he’ll likely remain a free agent indefinitely. The lawyer for Spillman’s alleged victim believes he should have been taken off the field months ago.

“Despite this sexual assault allegation for which Mr. Spillman is now indicted and another allegation of sexual assault made to the police in California by another alleged victim prior to the Texas sexual assault allegation made to the police, the NFL continued to allow Mr. Spillman to play with the Dallas Cowboys,” attorney Gloria Allred said in a statement, via Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News.

In her statement, Allred says that the victim reported the alleged sexual assault the day after Commissioner Roger Goodell’s September 2014 press conference regarding the issue of domestic violence. Allred also says she notified the NFL of the allegation on September 26, 2014 and that she spent “countless hours” with NFL investigators who were exploring the allegations regarding Spillman.

“[T]he NFL appeared to do nothing and never informed me that they would take any action or impose any discipline at all against Mr. Spillman,” Allred said. “I am very happy that the criminal justice system will now try to move forward to prosecute Mr. Spillman but it is shameful that the NFL has taken no meaningful action in the interim.

“Their face-saving P.R. campaign which, in my opinion, was designed to make them appear to be sympathetic to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence is now revealed for what it really was, a sham and a slick P.R. trick, because their words did not match their deeds in this case.”

The Cowboys handled the Spillman case by pointing to the fact that he hadn’t been charged. Of course, that didn’t stop the NFL from conducting its own investigation and coming to its own conclusion. While the Spillman situation arose before the NFL finalized a new Personal Conduct Policy that contemplates an investigative process that will unfold regardless of the justice system, it also happened in the immediate aftermath of the Ray Rice debacle.

With separate situations involving Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy in full boil at the time, the NFL likely glossed over Spillman’s case because of the player’s low profile. If Spillman had been a star, the league would have been forced to deal with the situation.

Which underscores the notion that the league’s entire strategy regarding off-field misconduct arises not necessarily from doing the right thing but from doing the thing that keeps the NFL from absorbing widespread criticism and alienating customers. Otherwise, the NFL and the Cowboys would have moved much more swiftly to deal with Spillman regarding an incident that allegedly occurred at the team’s hotel.

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ESPN denies telling Olbermann to quit ripping Goodell

ESPN Getty Images

It didn’t take long for ESPN to deny the report that it wants Keith Olbermann to tone down his criticism of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Responding to a report from the Hollywood Reporter that ESPN wants to put a clause in Olbermann’s next contract prohibiting him from commentaries critical of the league or its commissioner, ESPN released a statement saying that simply isn’t the case.

“Keith Olbermann has never been told any topic is off limits for his commentary nor has continuation of it been part of any conversation about his future at the company,” ESPN’s statement said.

Olbermann, who returned to ESPN two years ago with a daily show on ESPN2, has been highly critical of Goodell, saying that he should have lost his job in the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

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Isaiah Battle to work out for teams on July 7

Adam Choice, Isaiah Battle AP

Clemson tackle Isaiah Battle is the only player from an FBS program in next week’s supplemental draft and he’s thought to have the best chance of any player in the pool to become the first player to enter the league this way since the Browns took wide receiver Josh Gordon in 2012.

Teams interested in taking Battle off the board will get a chance to watch him work out a couple of days before the July 9 draft. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports Battle will hold a pro day workout on Tuesday, July 7. Any team that takes Battle will surrender their pick from the same round in the 2016 draft.

Battle said that he’s leaving Clemson now because he has “some family matters to address,” including the birth of a child this summer, but he also had a string of disciplinary issues while at the school that helped hasten his move to the professional ranks.

Battle started 11 games at left tackle during the 2014 season and, at 6-7, has the kind of size that teams like although he probably needs to bulk up from 275 pounds before he’ll be a contender to play the position in the NFL.

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Report: ESPN wants Olbermann to stop ripping Goodell

keith-olbermann-fired2 Getty Images

There’s long been a perception in sports media circles that when the NFL tells ESPN to jump, ESPN asks, How high? Whether it’s the cancellation of Playmakers, the shunning of League of Denial or the suspension of Bill Simmons, ESPN seems eager to please the NFL, which provides ESPN with its most popular programming.

So today’s story from the Hollywood Reporter about ESPN’s negotiations with Keith Olbermann will be closely scrutinized within the sports media. According to the report, ESPN has told Olbermann that if his contract is going to be extended, the network wants Olbermann to stop engaging in commentary.

And that request is the result of the fact that Olbermann’s commentaries regularly rip the NFL in general and Commissioner Roger Goodell in particular. Olbermann called for Goodell to lose his job over his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, and Olbermann has regularly been a thorn in Goodell’s side.

The report says that ESPN remains sensitive about its relationship with the NFL, and that multiple sources within ESPN believe that the NFL gave ESPN a weak slate of Monday Night Football games this year as “payback for Simmons and Olbermann.” It seems unlikely that the NFL would cut off its nose to spite its face like that, but some folks at ESPN apparently believe that’s exactly what happened.

Olbermann’s contract with ESPN expires next month. With his longtime interest in politics, he may be looking to leave for a news channel where he can comment freely on next year’s presidential election. Especially if ESPN is telling him that he needs to muzzle his critiques of Goodell.

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Bills sign Wayne Hunter

Dallas Cowboys v New York Jets Getty Images

The last time Rex Ryan coached a team trying to get Wayne Hunter to sign a contract, he got a tattoo of a Hawaiian design on his leg to show Hunter how much the Jets valued him.

Ryan landed Hunter that time and he’s landed Hunter again in Buffalo, presumably without any new ink being added to his body. The Bills announced Wednesday that they’ve signed Hunter, who worked out for the team last month.

The move to re-sign Hunter in 2011 didn’t work out all that well for the Jets, who missed the playoffs after two straight trips to the AFC title game and saw Hunter struggle in his only season as the team’s starter at right tackle. They traded him to the Rams for Jason Smith the next year and Hunter played in 14 games with St. Louis, but he hasn’t played for anyone in the last two seasons.

The Bills had Cyrus Kouandjio ahead of Seantrel Henderson at right tackle when minicamp wrapped up and it seems likely that Hunter will be competing for a reserve role in his return to the NFL this summer.

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Pittsburgh readying bid for 2023 Super Bowl

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Steelers have won the Super Bowl six times, but they’ve never hosted the game.

Team chairman Dan Rooney said earlier this year that he’d like to see that change and the team is moving forward with an attempt to land the 57th edition of the game in 2023. The team submitted an application to be considered as a host for the game at the league meetings in May and met with officials from Pittsburgh, including Mayor Bill Peduto, to work on the bid Wednesday.

“We met this morning with local community leaders to provide an update on formally submitting our application to the NFL to bid for Super Bowl LVII in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania,” Steelers president Art Rooney II in a statement. “The application is an early step in the bidding process, and we will continue to meet with representatives of the Mayor’s Office, County Executive’s Office, VisitPittsburgh, Allegheny Conference as well as other community leaders to review the requirements with the hopes of submitting our bid to host Super Bowl LVII in 2023.”

Peduto said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the region will have enough hotel rooms to host the game and that he believes Pittsburgh has “an opportunity to be competitive” with their bid.

The league will select the bidders in 2018 and pick a site in 2019, which leaves the team and city with plenty of time to research other regions. The team says that process will include “sending representatives to Northern cities that have already hosted the game.

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Brandon Spikes cuts plea deal, probably saves a few bucks this time

Buffalo Bills v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Since there wasn’t some poor deer to blame this time, Brandon Spikes went through with a plea deal Wednesday.

According to WBZ Radio, the former Patriots and Bills linebacker pleaded guilty to leaving scene of his recent car crash, and received a fine, a year of probation, and lost his license. He’ll also have to attend a driver’s safety class.

He also cost himself a job, as the Patriots promptly cut him after the incident. Spikes was charged with hitting another car and abandoning his vehicle on the side of I-495 near Gillette Stadium, but cops said he told an OnStar operator that he had hit a deer and not the Nissan which was found damaged a short distance away. He hasn’t been linked with any other teams since.

We’re still waiting for an update on the deer, who police amazingly found no trace of after the incident.

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Woody Johnson on hand for dedication of “smart home” for wounded vet

woodyjohnson AP

The Jets were among the teams who took some heat this offseason for taking government money (i.e. yours) in exchange for some advertising campaigns for the armed services.

But they’ve spent plenty of their own, and got to see the return on their investment today.

After making a $1 million donation, Jets owner Woody Johnson was on hand for the dedication of an accessible  “smart home” for Sgt. Adam Keys, a seriously wounded veteran.

“These veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and deserve a home that supports their specific physical needs to enable them to live independently,” Johnson said upon making the donation.

Keys lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan nearly five years ago, and the high-tech house was designed for him to be able to regain his ability to perform basic household functions.

“I’m thankful for all those people who donated money, labor or time, and volunteered to do this,” Keys told LehighValleyLive.com. “It’s incredible to see the outpouring of love from people — the majority of whom I’ve never met.”

That includes Johnson, who used his wealth and his team’s platform for a good cause.

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