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Panthers fire RBs coach, but not an RB

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Panthers made a change at their best-funded position, but not the one that gave their fans a Twitter heart attack for a moment.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers fired running backs coach John Settle Tuesday, the first staff change after head coach Ron Rivera was retained this weekend.

More changes could be coming, while it’s believed that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will remain.

The Panthers finished ninth in the league in rushing, despite DeAngelo Williams being benched at one point and his replacement Jonathan Stewart missing seven games with an ankle injury.

Of course, Stewart’s future was a concern earlier in the afternoon, when a message that said “I no longer play for the panthers got cutt,” showed up on his Twitter account.

Stewart quickly deleted the tweet, and said he was “hacked.”

That’s either the world’s laziest or least imaginative hacker, or else Stewart has to stop leaving his phone laying around where Williams can get his hands on it.

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Packers have leapfrogged Seahawks as Super Bowl favorites

Aaron Rodgers AP

Maybe a summer of Russell Wilson contract drama is rubbing off on the betting public.

Whether it’s that or the relative stability in other precincts, there’s a new Super Bowl favorite in Las Vegas.

Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager at Bovada.lv, said the Seahawks no longer carried their best odds to win the title.

“The Super Bowl runner-up Seahawks had been favorite to win it all in 2016 since their loss back in February but there is very little support for them from a betting perspective,” Bradley said. “The Packers have now jumped to the favorite position at 6/1 and have seen more money than any other team. If the Hawks can get there again and win the Super Bowl, it would be the best result for the book and I do not see that changing any time soon.”

The Seahawks are still second on their list at 13/2, followed by the Colts (8/1), Patriots (9/1) and Cowboys (10/1).

And now that I’ve written my second gambling-related item of the day, it’s time to pour one out in honor of our former PFT colleague Morris Wilkening.

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Ryan Kerrigan running after offseason knee scope

Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Hoyer AP

Washington did a lot of work to upgrade their defensive line in free agency by signing Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton and Ricky Jean Francois to bolster the unit.

Their hope is that group can work well with outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on the field this fall, a development that will require Kerrigan to make a full recovery from an offseason knee scope. Kerrigan appears to be well on his way to making that recovery.

“I’m running now,” Kerrigan said, via CSN Washington. “Now it’s just about building the strength. My leg feels really good and I’m glad I got the surgery — not just for football but it makes my everyday life feel better so I’m glad I got it done. Now it’s just a matter of getting strong and getting into shape.”

Kerrigan’s presence in the lineup will benefit the Redskins as a team and it will give him a chance to make his best case for a new deal if he and the team don’t come to an agreement before the start of the season.

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NFL announces seven players eligible for supplemental draft

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In the last two years, no players have been selected in the NFL supplemental draft. This year, the NFL has announced that seven players are eligible to be selected.

However, only one is likely to be chosen: Isaiah Battle, an offensive tackle from Clemson, has a very good chance of getting picked when the supplemental draft takes place on July 9.

The league has announced that six other players are eligible as well: West Georgia defensive end Darrius Caldwell, West Georgia defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey, Houston defensive end Eric Eiland, UConn tight end Sean McQuillan, Kansas defensive back Kevin Short and North Carolina Central wide receiver/kick returner Adrian Wilkins.

Players can enter the supplemental draft if something changes with their college eligibility after the deadline to declare for the regular draft. Often when “something changes” that means the player off-field trouble, so that means supplemental prospects are viewed by NFL teams as having one strike against them already.

Battle’s talent may be sufficient that some team will overlook that one strike and draft him. The other players are likely to be passed over in the supplemental draft and attempt to sign somewhere as undrafted free agents.

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Letroy Guion waiting to hear if he’ll face league discipline

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion reached a plea deal in March that had him pay a $5,000 fine plus court costs in Florida after police found marijuana and a firearm during a February traffic stop for erratic driving.

Guion’s plea also saw the charges dropped without adjudication of guilt because he was a first-time offender, which left him free to re-sign with the Packers for one year and $2.75 million a short time later. What it didn’t leave him free of was potential discipline from the league.

Guion’s agent Seth Katz told Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com that his client has yet to hear anything from the league about a possible penalty under the league’s personal conduct policy. Demovsky adds that the Packers and Guion have been “bracing” for a one-to-four game suspension.

Guion had 62 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a starter for the Packers last season. Green Bay also re-signed B.J. Raji, who missed last season with a biceps injury.

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Jaguars still a popular bet to exceed expectations this year

Fowler AP

Many people thought the Jaguars were going to be better last year, and surprisingly, they weren’t.

But that sag to three wins notwithstanding, the Jaguars are still a popular proposition in Las Vegas.

According to Graham McKean of ESPN.com, the Jaguars surpassing the over-under of 5.5 wins is a popular bet at a number of sports books. The most money at the Westgate and 7 percent of all the bets taken at William Hill’s 100-plus operations has been on the Jaguars exceeding the over.

That comes despite the casinos’ price dropping from minus-170 to minus-145 upon the season-ending injury to first-rounder Dante Fowler.

“The reason for the move on the Jags was more [Dante] Fowler getting hurt in camp than the money. We are still very bullish on the Jags this year,” said Ed Salmons of the Westgate.

While losing Fowler hurts, the Jaguars improved offensively this offseason, adding tight end Julius Thomas and running back T.J. Yeldon. Whether that’s enough to double their win total and satisfy bettors remains to be seen.

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Mariota contract not stalled by surfing clause

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There’s a report that’s getting some traction (especially in the slow time of the NFL calendar) that the Titans and quarterback Marcus Mariota haven’t been able to work out a contract because the Titans want Mariota to agree to stop surfing, due to the risk of injury.

It’s would be intriguing debate. If Mariota were a surfer. He’s not.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation tells PFT that there’s no truth to the report, and that Mariota isn’t a surfer.

“Somebody made something up here,” the source said.

That doesn’t change the fact that Mariota doesn’t have a contract. But the impasse has nothing to do with surfing.

I’ll explain once again the likely source of the impasse in a separate post. Because it’s the slow time of the NFL calendar and we need to milk the cow judiciously.

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Drew Brees thinks opposing defenses will have “too many things to think about”

Drew Brees AP

Saints quarterback Drew Brees said recently that the team has “all the pieces in place” to be the best team that he’s been on in New Orleans and he explained a bit more about why he feels that way on the offensive side of the ball during an appearance on ESPN Baton Rouge this week.

Brees acknowledged that the team is a bit shorter on familiar names than it has been in the last few years, but says that he thinks a few of them will become “household names” before too much longer. His reason for believing that is coach Sean Payton’s ability to build the offense around the players on hand and the more diverse group that the team has put together for the 2015 campaign.

“We look at our personnel and we say ‘How can we put our guys in the best positions to succeed according to their strengths?'” Brees said. “We’ve been a top-five rushing offense before. We’ve been able to hurt you down the field with our wideouts, we’ve been able to hurt you underneath with running backs and tight ends, so I feel like we have all those components. And when you have all those, you’re dangerous. You’re hard to defend. There’s just too many things to worry about.”

The Saints will need their young players to continue to thrive once they’re faced with actual opposition if they’re going to be dangerous, something that can’t be gauged until that opposition is on the other side of the field. There’s a way to go before we hit that point, but it seems Brees and company will be whiling away the hours in an optimistic mood about what’s to come.

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Kaufman knows he’d have a hard time getting Warren Sapp in the Hall of Fame now

Warren Sapp AP

In early 2013, Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune managed to persuade the Hall of Fame voters to induct former Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp on the first ballot. While off-field, post-career behavior technically isn’t an official factor in the selection process (although maybe it should be), Kaufman knows that he’d have a very hard time getting enough votes for Sapp if Sapp were up for election in the aftermath of a pair of arrests in 2015.

“I’ve already heard from three or four of the selectors saying, ‘Kaufman, you want to rescind that speech and do it all over again?'” Kaufman said on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.

Kaufman explained that Sapp’s primary competition for first-ballot induction was Michael Strahan, and that Kaufman managed to persuade the voters to set aside their personal opinions of Sapp and focus on a football career that included election to a pair of All-Decade teams.

“As soon as I got to town in New Orleans, I talked to my guys on the committee that know which way the wind’s blowing,” Kaufman said, “and they were saying, ‘You got your work cut out, Ira. A bunch of guys, they want to make Sapp wait. They don’t want to put him in that first year. They still remember how he treated them.’ I knew what I was up against.”

Kaufman kept the focus on Sapp the football player by addressing the problem of his off-field persona from the outset of the presentation.

“I had a quote from Keyshawn Johnson, ‘Yeah, he belongs in the Hall. He’s an A-hole, but he belongs,'” Kaufman said. “And so I think that’s the first time that word was ever used, Mike, in a Hall of Fame speech. And I didn’t mine saying it, because I got Keyshawn to say it. I didn’t have to say it. And that put it to bed right there. He’s an A-hole, but he belongs.”

It’s one thing to be an A-hole. It’s another thing to be twice accused of violence against women in a three-month period.

“He had a lot of problems here in Tampa, the way he treated people, without question,” Sapp said. “He would be out with Tony Dungy in a public situation, and Tony Dungy would cringe at some of the things Sapp did. Chewing out a father whose five-year-old asked for an autograph. Chewing out the father in front of the kid. Just gross, boorish behavior.

“But you know what? He did not have a history of putting his hands on people, specifically women. He did not. And now, with the Phoenix affair coupled with this one in Vegas, I’ve been telling you, Mike, it’s not gonna end well for Warren Sapp. But when I said that, I didn’t think it would evolve into domestic violence. This is a new area for Sapp.”

Some have suggested that Sapp, who was fired by NFL Network after the February incident in Arizona, should be removed from the Hall of Fame as a result of the allegation that he assaulted his long-time girlfriend in April. That’s something that won’t happen unless the rules of the Hall of Fame dramatically change — and unless plenty of other guys are removed, too (e.g., O.J. Simpson).

Kaufman pointed out that, locally, some are suggesting Sapp should be removed from the team’s Ring of Honor, pointing to the word “Honor” in that specific recognition. Since that’s an award controlled exclusively by the Buccaneers, it’s something to keep an eye out — especially if Sapp ends up being convicted of domestic violence for the April incident.

To hear the entire interview with Ira Kaufman, click here, select PFT Live, and choose the second hour of the June 30 show. And then cast a ballot on whether Sapp should be removed from the Hall of Fame, the Ring of Honor, both, or neither.

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Don Shula learned an early lesson about business with Donald Trump

Don Shula Getty Images

Many are distancing themselves from real estate mogul/combover cautionary tale/presidential candidate Donald Trump these days.

But former Dolphins coach Don Shula found out first hand how hard it was to do business with him in the early 1980s.

During his USFL years, Trump craved attention, and was willing to spend incredible amounts of money and air to keep his name in the papers. (My inner editor just sent the first four words of that sentence back to me as redundant. But they’re already typed. Carry on).

Via Dave George of the Palm Beach Post, it was October 1983 when Trump approached Don Shula — then in the final year of his deal with the Dolphins — about becoming coach of the New Jersey Generals. Trump announced the negotiations, which ultimately broke down (depending on whose version of the story you believe) over an apartment in Trump Plaza on Fifth Avenue. Of course, the fact Trump leaked the talks himself during the middle of Shula’s season didn’t help the process.

Shula quickly declared himself “no longer interested,” and said: “It really has developed into a huge distraction.”

Naturally, Trump interpreted it differently.

“Don is a good man,” he said. “An excellent guy, really. He just called me to say he was no longer interested, but I could not have done the deal. I could not have given him an apartment in Trump Tower.

“Money is one thing. Gold is another. I wasn’t very enthusiastic over the past few days. There was no way I could part with the apartment. I guess he was a little upset that the apartment thing came out. You know he was interested.”

That prompted Dolphins owner Joe Robbie to blast his rival, saying: “This confirms my impression that Donald Trump has been engaged more in ballyhoo for his grand entrance to the U.S. Football League than in a serious effort to build his franchise competitively by sound, professional management. Headlines in the sports pages and network television can be mighty heady to Fifth Avenue tycoons.”

Shula admitted he had discussed the job with Trump, and he had jumped from the Colts to the Dolphins previously, so it’s not as if the idea was unthinkable. But he had just landed a quarterback named Dan Marino, so walking away for the bright lights of the big city would have been hard anyway.

But working for Trump might have been harder.

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Five weeks later, still no Greg Hardy ruling

Greg Hardy AP

Apparently, “as soon as practicable” means “if you need five weeks, take five weeks . . . or more!”

The non-deadline deadline in Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, requiring a ruling on an appeal under the Personal Conduct Policy to be issued by the league’s designated hearing officer “as soon as practicable” has translated into 35 days and counting for Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy.

Hardy faces a 10-game suspension. The NFL Players Association believes that the punishment was imposed under the revised Personal Conduct Policy, even though the behavior at issue occurred under the old policy — which ordinarily would have resulted in a two-game suspension at most for a domestic violence incident.

Harold Henderson devoted seven hours to the matter on May 27. To date, Henderson still hasn’t issued a decision.

The delay in the ruling necessarily shortens Hardy’s window for challenging the case in court. Which in turn increases the chances of Hardy seeking a preliminary injunction that allows him to play while the litigation proceeds. Which means that Hardy could be suiting up for Week One against the Giants.

A ruling could come at any time, including during the looming Fourth of July weekend bad-news dump. Then, the next guy up for an “as soon as practicable” ruling will be Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whose appeal of a four-game suspension for #DeflateGate falls under the same provision of the CBA.

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Report: Rams not interested in Evan Mathis

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Guard Evan Mathis remains unsigned after his release from the Eagles last month and it doesn’t look like he’ll wind up in St. Louis for the 2015 season.

Jason Cole of Bleacher Report reports that the Rams are not interested in signing Mathis. Per Cole, the team wants “to let young players grow together” on the offensive line this season.

The Rams will certainly be young up front if that remains their plan. Left guard Rodger Saffold is entering his sixth year, but left tackle Greg Robinson is headed into his second year and prospective center Barrett Jones would be a starter for the first time after playing 10 games across his first two seasons. Right guard and right tackle are likely to be manned by rookies after the Rams added four linemen in this year’s draft.

It may take some time for that unit to gel, which may hurt the team’s chances of finishing in the top 20 in points scored for the first time since the 2006 season but doesn’t appear to be enough of a concern for them to look in Mathis’s direction.

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Jaguars say Bortles suffered from a dead arm late last year

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles struggled through a rough rookie season, but the team expects much more of a fresh Bortles this year.

Jacksonville General Manager Dave Caldwell told USA Today that by the end of last season, Bortles was worn down and had a “dead arm.”

“People don’t realize that as you look later in the season, he was on injury report,” Caldwell said. “You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do to survive. It wasn’t anything that was ingrained in him [mechanically]. He knew he was doing it. But in order to drive the ball 15 yards, there were some things that he needed to do to get the velocity on the ball.”

We noted late last season that Bortles looked like he was throwing shorter passes and not going downfield as much as he had earlier in the year. That led to a decrease in interceptions, which was good, but it also led to a decrease in his passing yardage — and it was alarming because Bortles’s big arm was a big reason the Jaguars chose him with the third overall pick in last year’s draft. It would appear that the “dead arm” was a big part of the reason Bortles changed his playing style.

So far, Bortles hasn’t proven that he’s the man to lead the franchise in the future. Now the Jaguars hope Bortles will be well-rested and ready to go for his second season.

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Mohamed Sanu shows Bengals he can hit a 60-yard field goal

060815 BENGALS OTAs AP

The Bengals haven’t limited wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to pass catching during his three years with the team.

In addition to making 119 catches, Sanu has also run the ball 16 times for 82 yards and completed five passes (two for touchdowns) in five attempts as a quarterback on gadget plays. Based on a video that Sanu posted on Twitter this week, there may be room to add more to his portfolio.

Sanu posted several videos of himself achieving various athletic feats, ranging from basketball to one-handed catches from a ball machine, before capping the list with film of him attempting a 60-yard field goal. It’s not the prettiest flight you’ll ever see a ball take to the uprights, but Sanu’s kick splits them with some room to spare.

It’s probably not enough to make the team part ways with Mike Nugent and dial the clock back to the days of Pat McInally, who saved the team a roster spot by playing both wide receiver and punter in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but a little more versatility never hurts for a team that’s struggled to put points on the board in the playoffs the last four seasons.

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Michael Sam gets some tough press in Canada

Michael Sam AP

Publicly, Michael Sam has been embraced by the Canadian Football League since signing with the Montreal Alouettes. Privately, some CFL insiders seem to resent the attention Sam is getting.

Sam left the Alouettes before the start of the season and missed last week’s season opener, but he’s now back with the team and expected to take the field at some point and become the first openly gay player to appear in a CFL game. That will generate plenty of publicity in both the United States and Canada, but that publicity isn’t being welcomed by everyone.

The Winnipeg Sun‘s “CFL Blitz” item includes a series of anonymous quotes from CFL coaches and managers, and a couple of those quotes show a less-than-welcoming attitude toward Sam.

“Michael Sam hasn’t played a down of football north of the border and he has gotten a thousand times more recognition than Randy Chevrier, who won the Tom Pate Award [for outstanding sportsmanship and someone who has made a significant contribution to his team, his community and CFLPA]. That’s pathetic. You guys [in the media] should be embarrassed,” one anonymous source said.

Said another anonymous source, “Our players are saying they’re hearing Michael Sam is an American prima donna. Thought he could just show up and dominate our league. Wrong.”

Of course, it’s easy for people to rip Sam while hiding behind anonymity. And it’s something that Sam has had to put up with since he came out: Before he was drafted by the Rams in 2014, there was a spate of anonymous quotes from around the league about concerns that he would be a distraction. Those concerns turned out to be unfounded, as Sam by all accounts fit in during training camp and the preseason, although he wasn’t able to make the 53-player roster.

There’s not much Sam can do about that except play, and play well. If he starts sacking the opposing quarterback on a regular basis, he can shut those anonymous quotes up.

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Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders staying upbeat through cancer battle

Pro Football Hall of Fame Press Conference Getty Images

Charlie Sanders was known for his toughness as a player, during his Hall of Fame career with the Lions.

He needs it now, as he’s battling something bigger than any football opponent.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Sanders remains upbeat after undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy as he fights the disease.

“Just as on the field, Charlie Sanders is a fighter and he is going to fight to the end like any game, like any journey,” Sanders’ daughter, Charese Sailor said. “We are rallying around him and supporting him in that fight, and until God says differently, we’re going to push on. . . .

“One thing that I really do want people to know is that he feels all the prayers and all the love and he knows that there are so many people really giving back to him what he gave. So in this critical time we are just rallying with him and it’s so difficult to get to everyone, but he would like everyone to know that he really feels and appreciates their prayer.”

Sanders was diagnosed last November when doctors found a tumor behind his right knee during prep work for a knee replacement surgery. He said in the spring that “the knee operation saved my life.”

Sanders was one of the top pass-catching tight ends of the 1970s, and continued to work for the team as a a broadcaster a coach and a personnel man since a knee injury shortened his brilliant career.

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