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Candlestick Park looks a lot like FedEx Field

Candlestick

One of last weekend’s four playoff games was played on a field that has been called “crappy” and “horrible” and anything and everything but “actual grass.”

This weekend, the ultimately reality show that is the NFL will have as another source of unwelcome reality the condition of the surface on which the players will be playing.

Via BayAreaSportsGuy.com, kicker Billy Cundiff posted on Facebook photos of the field at Candlestick Park, and it doesn’t look good.

It’s flat.  And most of it apparently once had grass on it.  Beyond that, there’s little in common with a real pro football field.

The truth is that too many NFL stadiums have subpar playing surfaces.  (In this era, one is too many.)  Whether it’s the uneven trays of grass in Houston or the green-painted dirt at Soldier Field or the mess at FedEx on Sunday or, if anyone could ever forget, the marsh that once was Heinz Field, the NFL and its teams have too much money to allow anything other than consistent, uniform, and safe playing surfaces in each facility.

The league obsesses over uniformity in every other possible way.  So if it’s not good enough for a guy’s socks to not be pulled up far enough (or, heaven forbid, to be pulled up too high), why is it good enough for two teams to play on a surface that looks bad, that plays bad, that keeps the players from demonstrating the full extent of their abilities, and that puts them in danger of being injured?

There’s no way that any effort to promote player safety can be taken seriously unless and until the NFL insists on consistency and uniformity in the construction of the 31 fields on which NFL games are regularly played.

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Vikings waive Justin Anderson, Jordan McCray

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The Vikings have parted ways with two second-year pros signed to reserve-future contracts after the 2014 season, waiving linebacker Justin Anderson and offensive guard Jordan McCray on Thursday.

The roster moves were disclosed in the NFL’s Thursday personnel notice.

Anderson and McCray were originally signed to Minnesota’s practice squad in December. Anderson (6-2, 232) played colleglately at Louisiana-Lafayette, while McCray (6-3, 322) is a Central Florida product. Both entered the NFL as an undrafted free agents in 2014. Anderson also played for the Giants last year, with McCray seeing time with the Packers in 2014.

The Vikings currently have 71 players on the roster. This does not include tailback Adrian Peterson, who is on the commissioner’s exempt list.

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Hernandez’s fiancée due to testify on Friday

Jenkins AP

Apart from Thursday’s bomb threat, the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial hasn’t generated much news in recent weeks.  The circumstantial evidence points to Hernandez as the killer (or at least present during the killing) of Odin Lloyd, but there’s still no clear motive apart from Hernandez being generally reckless, completely unpredictable, and randomly violent.

Things could get far more interesting soon, when Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, shows up to testify.  Per multiple reports, Jenkins is due to take the stand on Friday.

Jenkins has received immunity, which gives the prosecution the power to compel her to testify — or to put her behind bars for contempt of court.  The question becomes whether she goes out of her way to be helpful, or whether she has truly flipped on the father of her child.

One factor that could make Jenkins flip?  A babysitter testified earlier this month that Hernandez once hit on her.

If Jenkins has indeed flipped, she could testify that she disposed of a box that contained the murder weapon that still has not been found.  Prosecutors believe that’s exactly what she did.

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Brandon Magee still committed to football despite trip to spring training

Brandon Magee Getty Images

While Brandon Magee is joining the Boston Red Sox for the next few weeks to participate in spring training, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker is still fully committed to pursuing his football career.

Magee was waived by the Buccaneers this week and once again elected to join the Red Sox in spring training. Magee did the same a year ago while he was a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Blake Baratz, Magee’s agent, says Magee is healthy and ready to sign with another NFL team as soon as possible with his commitment being to his NFL career.

“There have been rumors circulating that Brandon Magee, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, has given up football with the intention of playing professional baseball. This could not be further from the truth,” Baratz wrote in an email to PFT. “While he does attend spring training for a few weeks up until the beginning of the NFL off-season program, he is 100% fully committed to playing in the NFL.”

Magee appeared in nine games for the Buccaneers last year while primarily serving on special teams duty. Magee recorded seven tackles before landing on injured reserve in December. Magee also appeared in eight games for the Cleveland Browns in 2013, recording five tackles.

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49ers cut Jonathan Martin

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Jonathan Martin, the offensive lineman best known for leaving the Dolphins after he was bullied by teammate Richie Incognito, has been released by the 49ers.

The 49ers announced the move today. Martin will be placed on waivers, which means all 31 other teams have the right to put in a claim for him. If he does not get claimed, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

San Francisco gave up this year’s seventh-round draft pick to acquire Martin last year. He started nine games for the 49ers last season and had a strong supporter in former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who also coached Martin at Stanford. Now that Harbaugh is gone, it’s no surprise that Martin is gone, too.

The Dolphins took Martin in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. He started his first 23 games in Miami before leaving the team in his second season.

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Vikings sign a gigantic Polish offensive tackle named Babatunde

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The Vikings signed a big man who helped the Giants win a championship.

OK, so it was the Wroclaw Giants of the Polish American Football League, but this guy is already an early favorite here at PFT.

According to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, the Vikings signed Babatunde Aiyegbusi, a 6-foot-9, 351-pound offensive tackle, who also played for the Dresden Monarchs of the German league.

The native of Olesnica would be just the fifth Polish-born player in the NFL if he made it, along with defensive tackle Jason Maniecki and kickers Chester Marcol, Rich Szaro and Sebastian Janikowski.

He’d also be only the second guy in league history named Babatunde, after former Browns sixth-rounder Babatunde Oshinowo, a defensive tackle from Stanford.

For that reason alone, we hope the big fella makes it.

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Rex Ryan is surprised the Bears didn’t want to hire him

rexryan AP

After Rex Ryan was fired by the Jets, and before he was hired by the Bills, he was expecting the Bears to call him and ask him to interview for their head-coaching vacancy. But that call never came.

Ryan said at the league meeting that he expected the Bears to interview him and was surprised they didn’t.

“I actually did, but they got a great coach there with John Fox,” Ryan said. “I did. I thought, It made sense to me. But apparently it never made sense to them. So that’s the way it is.”

Ryan, who worked as a ball boy for the Bears when his father Buddy was Chicago’s defensive coordinator from 1978 to 1986, said he isn’t sure why the Bears wouldn’t want him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I must have done a bad job as a ball boy there or something.”

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Vinny Testaverde working as quarterback tutor for ECU prospect

Testaverde Getty Images

When Chris Weinke left IMG to take a job as the Rams quarterback coach, he was replaced by another old guy who once played for the Panthers.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden is under the tutelage of former Bucs, Browns, Ravens, Jets, Cowboys, Patriots and Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Testaverde thinks he’s smoothed out the delivery of Carden, a mid- to late-round prospect.

The longtime NFL quarterback said Carden had an “awkward-looking delivery, if you will.”

But the use of a quarterback tutor isn’t the only thing that has changed about the pre-draft process when Testaverde was chosen first overall in 1987.

“When I ran my 40, two days before I had our strength coach show me how to do a 40 start,” Testaverde said. “So I worked on it for a day. Went to the combine, ran the 40, so we didn’t have all that specific training.”

Testaverde said he ran his 40 in 4.72 seconds, which is a lot faster than most of us might have thought.

But the thing he should teach Carden is longevity, after 21 seasons in the NFL.

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League didn’t want owners to face Browns, Falcons discipline questions

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

At the recently-concluded NFL meetings, the league advised the Browns and the Falcons of the punishments they’ll be facing for their recent violations of the rules.  Browns G.M. Ray Farmer sent text messages to the sideline during games, and the Falcons piped fake crowd noise into the stadium during 2013 and 2014.

The punishments reportedly are “severe,” and the punishments obviously have been determined.  So why haven’t the punishments already been announced?

As one league source explained it to PFT, the NFL delayed the announcement until after the league meetings because the NFL didn’t want the owners to face questions regarding the discipline or the conduct that precipitated it.

It’s hardly a surprise.  With more and more media swarming around the annual meetings, plenty of opportunities would have arisen for owners to be asked questions on and off the record — with answers that could have been perceived as defending wrongdoing by NFL teams or as attacking competitors who also happen to be business partners.

The best way to avoid any problems was to avoid any questions at all.  By holding the decision until after the meetings, the mission was easily accomplished.

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Bengals bring back defensive tackle Pat Sims from Oakland

Pat Sims AP

The Bengals obviously have no qualms with bringing back known commodities.

The team announced they had re-signed defensive tackle Pat Sims, who spent the last two years with the Raiders.

The veteran spent his previous five seasons with the Bengals, and started 23 games for them. He started all 16 games for the Raiders in 2013, but was reduced to a rotational role last year, starting two games.

He joins comeback kids such as Michael Johnson and Brandon Ghee as returning to the Bengals after going elsewhere in free agency.

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Report: Chuck Pagano enters lame-duck season in Indy

Pagano Getty Images

While recently reading Chuck Pagano’s 2014 book, Sidelined, it became impossible to envision him coaching any team other than the Colts. But it’s now seems to be a distinct possibility.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Pagano and the Colts aren’t expected to reach agreement on a contract extension before the fourth and final year of the contract he signed in 2012.

Which means that Pagano will be a lame duck, a phenomenon that some teams try to avoid but multiple franchises have embraced in recent years. Last season, the Cowboys opted not to extend the contract of coach Jason Garrett before or during the season, signing him to a new contract after he technically was no longer employed by the team.

Garrett could have made life interesting for the Cowboys by expressing a desire to coach elsewhere.  He didn’t.  Pagano may feel differently, if Colts owner Jim Irsay opts to make Pagano wait until after the 2015 season to get a new contract.  At some point, the team needs to demonstrate real loyalty to a coach who has helped the team become successful.

The problem may be that owner Jim Irsay wants more success before making a fresh commitment to Pagano.  Ditto, possibly, for G.M. Ryan Grigson, who also is entering the final year of his contract, who traded a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson, and who possibly won’t be getting an extension, either.

Irsay had no qualms about firing Jim Mora after the 2001 season, after a 6-10 season followed a pair of playoff appearances with Peyton Manning.  Perhaps Irsay believes that, unless Grigson and Pagano can get more out of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, Irsay will find someone who will.

That’s his right, but it also will be Grigson’s and Pagano’s right to accept employment elsewhere, if they take the Colts to or close to the top of the NFL and attract interest elsewhere.

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Mariota may be drafted No. 2, by the Titans or someone else

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Most people think the Buccaneers will take Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the draft. But will the Titans take Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota second overall?

That’s an open question, but there’s been increasing chatter lately that if the Titans don’t take Mariota, they’ll be able to trade the second overall pick to another team that wants him. That’s what one G.M. told Jason La Canfora of CBS.

He’s going second overall,” the unnamed G.M. said of Mariota. “I don’t know to which team, but he’s going second overall.”

One intriguing option that has surfaced recently is the possibility that Philip Rivers — who says he plans to play out the final year of his contract this season, rather than signing an extension with the Chargers — could be available in a trade. The Chargers say that’s not happening, but if the Titans were to offer the No. 2 overall pick for Rivers, that could make sense for both teams: It would reunite Rivers with Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the former Chargers offensive coordinator, and it would give the Chargers a long-term quarterback of the future, rather than a quarterback who could be gone after one more year. The Titans have more than $27 million in cap space, so they could afford Rivers’s $17 million cap hit this year and could either franchise him or sign him to an extension after that.

All of this is a long way from actually happening. But with the draft five weeks away, it’s sounding increasingly likely that Winston will go first and Mariota will go second, to the Titans or to some team that makes a trade with the Titans.

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Dan Snyder’s defense on censorship charge might be gullible employees

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Dan Snyder’s radio station is finally going to debut a radio show hosted by one of his sharpest critics, and somebody at that station is either the most gullible person in the world or a horrible liar.

According to Will Hobson and Paul Farhi of the Washington Post, former Post beat writer Jason Reid’s show “The Man Cave” will finally hit the air Monday, after a two-week delay over its promoted start date and the resignation of the program director that created it.

Naturally, this looked suspicious given the fact Snyder owns the station, and his team president Bruce Allen was said to have a poor relationship with Reid.

But that would have been just old-fashioned intimidation, and not even the weird part of this story.

Apparently, somebody prank-called the station pretending to be ESPN president John Skipper, demanding that the show be taken off the air. But ESPN staffers told us at the owners meetings that Skipper never dips into radio business, especially with a relatively small local affiliate.

Three sources at the station told the Post that the prank caller (from an 860 area code, same as Bristol, Conn.) knew enough about station business and had Skipper’s accent down, making it believable to them. The caller threatened legal action if the show went on, replacing the syndicated “Mike and Mike” show. It apparently convinced Red Zebra Bradcasting station executive Rick Carmean, who alerted team officials and told the station the show would be shelved.

The Manti Te’o/fake deal girlfriend-level plot came unraveled when Allen called Skipper himself to tell him the station would look into it, and Skipper thanked him for his consideration before calling his underlings to find out what the hell exactly was going on.

Neither station officials nor the team have commented, or explained the nature of the delay. Reid hasn’t returned messages to former co-workers at the Post, and his agent hasn’t said anything either.

ESPN released a statement saying they didn’t have anything to do with this mess, which makes them the one with clean hands in this whole thing.

We’ll see when or if the show actually hits the air, whether Snyder will continue to subsidize a guy who ripped his team routinely. Or whether paychecks soften that criticism.

But one thing’s for sure.

They better have a really good call-screener.

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Jerry Jones has no problem with the current catch rule

Jerry Jones AP

I’ve been agitating all week for the owners to take the reins of the sport over which they reign and do what the league office won’t regarding the catch rule.  Namely, change it.

Not tweak the language or otherwise pretend to change the rule without changing it.  Actually change it, making what Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant did in the playoffs against the Packers into, if/when it happens in the future, a catch.

In Arizona, I tried to lobby V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher to change the rule from a subjective test to an objective one.  It didn’t work.

So when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arrived at the set of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, I assumed I’d get one of the more influential members of NFL ownership to co-sign the notion that a new rule is needed.  Not so.

“First of all, we know that just as these rules could go against you they could go with you, and we had a couple of other calls that went with us during the playoffs,” Jones said.  “But since we have instant replay you really strive to get it right because you have a lot of time to look at it with instant replay.  It was a catch, it just didn’t fall under the rules. . . .  Those are the kinds of rules that I think need to be reconciled with more of reality.  Did he catch it, or did he not catch it?  Well, he caught the ball, we all know in any definition there is except the rules of the NFL.  I live with it though because we live with a lot of rules that have those caveats.”

While Jones ultimately says all the right things from the league’s perspective, lurking in his response is a concession that the rule indeed should be “reconciled more with reality.” The only thing that seems to be keeping Jones from flat-out revolting against the rule is the likelihood that, the next time around, he’ll potentially benefit from it.

“Well, obviously everybody that makes decisions on these rules know that the same thing could happen against them,” Jones said.  “Everybody has to play offense and everybody has to catch the ball.  And so it really is an attempt by very knowledgeable people, very focused people to try to come up with the most competitive way to make these calls and so there was no club bias when we were sitting there.  Now, we had a little bias because we had visions of Super Bowl if we make that catch.  But still, I’m totally satisfied that every rule we’ve got is an attempt to do the best job for competitiveness, which in turn does it for the fans.”

If Jones, whose team was burned by the rule in a high-profile setting, ultimately is satisfied with the language, maybe everyone else should be, too.  Still, it’s not good for the NFL to have a disconnect between what we see — that Bryant, as Jones said, caught the ball — and what the rules later tell us that we saw.

For the full conversation with Jones, click the thing in the thing below.

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Bomb threat disrupts Aaron Hernandez trial

Hernandez AP

The murder trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was suspended today when a bomb threat was called into the courthouse in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Just before 1 p.m. Eastern those who had been evacuated were given the all clear to return to the building, according to Michele Steele of ESPN. There was no immediate word on whether the threat was specifically related to the Hernandez case.

The Hernandez trial was scheduled to be going on until 4 p.m. today, but he and all other incarcerated defendants were taken from the courthouse to a secure location.

Hernandez has been standing trial for almost two months for the killing last year of Odin Lloyd. During today’s proceedings, the judge ruled that jailhouse phone conversations in which Hernandez discussed giving money to a cousin could be used as evidence.

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NFL not commenting on controversial new Indiana law

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Last year, as Arizona was closing in on passing a religious freedom law that would have allowed business owners to deny service on the basis of sexual orientation that conflicted with the religious beliefs of said business owners, the NFL expressed concern about the situation.

“Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” the NFL said in a statement.  “We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time.”

At that time, the league also declined to comment on whether an alternate site was identified for Super Bowl XLIX.

Fast forward to 2015, and Indiana has passed the law that Arizona didn’t.  So will it jeopardize the ability of Indianapolis to host future league-presented events like the Super Bowl and the annual Scouting Combine?

That’s unknown, because unlike 2014 when Arizona was merely considering passing the law, the NFL has no comment this time around.

Presumably, the principles expressed by the NFL a year ago still apply.  The NFL nevertheless has opted not to reiterate those principles as it relates to Indiana.

The NCAA, which will be staging the Final Four in Indianapolis in less than two weeks, has opted for something other than silence, saying via CNN that governing body for college athletics is “committed to an inclusive environment where all individuals enjoy equal access to events.”

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