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Only five Pats on final injury report, and all are probable

Danny Woodhead, Tom Brady AP

Apart from tight end Rob Gronkowski and any other players placed on injured reserve by the Patriots throughout the season, the home team in the AFC title game is healthy.

Very healthy.

Only five players appear on the injury report, and all are probable — which means there’s a virtual certainty they will be available for normal duty against the Ravens.

Most importantly, defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) and running back Danny Woodhead (thumb) are good to go after suffering injuries against the Texans five days ago.  Also probable are cornerback Marquice Cole (finger), offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), and defensive end Trevor Scott (knee).

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Report confirms NFL had chance to avoid #DeflateGate

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Ted Wells report insists, at footnote 25 on page 46, that the NFL did not launch a “sting” operation against the Patriots.  But that’s not the impression the body of the report creates.

Regardless of what the effort is labeled, the Wells report confirms that someone wanted to catch the Patriots in the act.

The Wells report explains that Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson sent an email to the league office raising concerns about air pressure in Patriots football.  Attached to the Grigson email was a message from Colts Equipment Manager Sean Sullivan, who said “it is well known around the league that after the Patriots gameballs [sic] are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys [sic] for the patriots [sic] will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don’t get an illegal advantage.” (Emphasis added.)

Grigson’s email and Sullivan’s message went to David Gardi and Mike Kensil, members of the NFL Football Operations Department.  Gardi responded to Grigson by explaining that Kensil would be at the game, and that he would speak to the game officials about the concern.

Kensil then sent the email to three other high-level league employees:  James Daniel, Dean Blandino, and Alberto Riveron.  Blandino and Riverson said they would raise the issue with referee Walt Anderson.

The Wells report does not explain that anyone informed the Patriots of suspected irregularities with the footballs or of any intent to keep an eye out for problems. As one league source with no connection to the present controversy explained it to PFT in January, past Commissioners like Paul Tagliabue would have informed the Patriots of the situation — and warned them that the NFL is paying attention, that the league reserves the right to check the air pressure in the footballs during the game, and that any funny business would be met with a decidedly unfunny reaction from the league office.

Instead, whether it’s called a sting or something else, a trap was set for the Patriots.  And even when referee Walt Anderson noticed — for the first time in 19 years on the job — that the game balls had gone missing before the start of the game, nothing was done to ensure that no tampering with the footballs had occurred before the game started.  Which would have been the best time to capture PSI readings that never could have been credibly explained away by the affects of 90 minutes of cold, wet January conditions on the air inside a rubber bladder.

Setting aside whether the Patriots circumvented the rules (and the Wells report definitely contains enough evidence to support a reasonable conclusion that they did), the NFL apparently allowed non-conforming footballs to be used despite the fact that the referee assigned to the game had experienced the unprecedented development of footballs going AWOL, at a time when the NFL specifically is paying specific attention to whether someone with the Patriots was tampering with the balls.

Sure, checking the air pressure inside the footballs would have delayed the start of the game.  But it also would have provided much more conclusive proof about whether cheating occurred. More importantly, it would have kept the Patriots from realizing any benefit from their apparent misconduct.

Right or wrong, the NFL blew a chance to keep this mess from blowing up in the league’s face.  And that’s something all 32 owners should be concerned about, since the incident ultimately applies another layer of tarnish to recently unshiny shield.

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Jets sign fifth-round pick Jarvis Harrison

Jarvis Harrison Getty Images

The New York Jets have signed the first of their six draft selections.

The team announced Wednesday they have signed fifth-round pick Jarvis Harrison to his rookie contract.

Per NFL rules, it’s a four-year contract for the former Texas A&M offensive lineman. All draft picks are signed to four-year deals with first-rounds picks having an option year in the contracts for a fifth season.

Harrison was the 152nd overall pick of last week’s draft. He started at least five games every season for his four seasons at Texas A&M, making 38 games in all for the Aggies at three different positions on the line but mostly at left guard.

The Jets rookie mini-camp takes place this weekend.


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La’el Collins’s paternity test comes back negative

Kentucky v LSU Getty Images

Former LSU offensive tackle La’El Collins was not the father of a baby boy who passed away last week.

Baton Rouge (La.) police say a paternity test for Collins came back negative, multiple media outlets, including the Baton Rouge Advocate, reported Wednesday.

Collins’ pregnant former girlfriend, Brittney Mills, was shot to death on April 24. She delivered a baby boy, who died on Friday. His death has been declared a homicide.

Baton Rouge police have said Collins is not a suspect in the deaths. He met with earlier this police this week.

Collins, who went undrafted as teams waited to learn more information about his situation, is set to meet with the Cowboys, the Advocate reported Wednesday. The date of the meeting is not yet known, but clubs can’t officially meet with Collins until LSU’s final exams end on May 9, per an NFL rule.

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Wells Report reflects well on Walt Anderson, crew, officiating supervisors

Walt Anderson, Tom Coughlin AP

While NFL observers await Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision on discipline after the release of the New England deflation investigation findings on Wednesday, and while some might ponder how Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s legacy could be affected by the controversy, there is one group that might have had its reputation bolstered by the Wells Report: NFL officials, particularly referee Walt Anderson.

The Wells Report depicts Anderson, a 19-year NFL veteran, as an organized, by-the-book, detail-orientated referee.

“It is obvious that he approaches his responsibilities with a high level of professionalism and integrity,” the Wells Report investigators wrote.

Through its research, the investigators found that Anderson “is one of the few referees who personally tests the inflation levels of game balls prior to the game, rather than delegating that responsibility to another member of his officiating crew.”

The report goes into detail on how Anderson tested the footballs before the AFC title game, noting he had not one, but two air-pressure gauges, and used a gold pen to mark the footballs that were tested. He also marked the spare footballs in case they were to be used during the cold, wet game in Foxborough, Mass., but only after asking NFL senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron for permission.

Riveron is also a major player in the Wells Report; he alerted Anderson to Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson’s concerns about New England’s footballs before the game, as did NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. Then, after the Colts expressed concern about the inflation level of a ball intercepted by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, Riveron was one of the NFL officials pushing for the Patriots’ footballs to be checked, passing word to the officials to bring the footballs in at halftime. Riveron was also part of the initial testing of the football the Colts reported to be softer than usual, finding the ball was below 12 psi.

Then, at halftime, Riveron oversaw the testing of the Patriots’ footballs, instructing Anderson to go through his normal routine. Two officials tested 11 Patriots footballs and four Colts footballs, with the Patriots’ footballs all found to be less than the minimum 12.5 psi and the Colts’ football all within NFL rules.

No matter how the NFL proceeds after the deflation investigation, this much is certain: the NFL’s officiating system, from management on down, comes out well in the Wells Report. Some may dispute the report’s findings, and some may wonder why the NFL did such a deep dive on the matter of air in a football, but the officials involved were depicted as organized, communicative and diligent.

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Colts strike deals with five 2015 picks

Clayton Geathers, Mark Rucker, D.J. Killings AP

The Colts added eight players in the 2015 draft and they’re more than halfway toward having the entire group under contract.

The team announced Wednesday that they have signed their five third day picks. Fourth-round safety Clayton Geathers, fifth-round defensive tackle David Parry, sixth-round running back Josh Robinson, sixth-round linebacker Amarlo Herrera and seventh-round tackle Denzelle Good have agreed to their four-year rookie deals with the team.

Geathers fits a need for safety depth in Indianapolis and could be a contender to move into a starting role next year with Dwight Lowery on a one-year deal with the team. He started 52 games for Central Florida and his 53 total games played are tied for the most in school history.

The Colts traded up for Parry and there could be playing time in the Stanford product’s immediate future if he can provide the team with a bit more resistance to the run than they had up front last season. Robinson could also work his way into the mix quickly after running for 1,203 yards and an SEC-best 11 touchdowns at Mississippi State. Frank Gore holds the top spot on the depth chart, but the roles behind him will likely be up in the air over the next few months.

Herrera led Georgia in tackles as a senior, but will probably have to show special teams skills to make the roster and get early playing time. The good news about Good is that he didn’t allow a sack during his college career. He played at Mars Hill University, though, and will be facing a major step up from the competition he saw as a collegiate player.

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Ed Reed officially retires

Reed Getty Images

Ed Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowler and one of the best safeties of his generation, is officially calling it a career.

The Ravens announced that Reed will retire at a ceremony hosted by the team on Thursday.

Reed didn’t play in the NFL last year, so this news comes as no surprise. But it’s a good move for both sides that the Ravens and Reed have decided to announce this retirement together. Although Reed played briefly for the Texans and Jets in 2013, he’ll always be remembered primarily for the 11 seasons he spent with the Ravens.

Reed won a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens, was Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, led the NFL in interceptions three times and is the league’s all-time leader in interception return yards. He may some day have a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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No evidence that Patriots broke k-ball rules

gostkowski AP

So many stories surfaced during the Deflategate media feeding frenzy that it’s hard to remember them all. One that has been largely overlooked was a report from ESPN that a Patriots locker room attendant tried to put an unapproved ball, not an NFL-mandated kicking ball, into the game on a special teams play.

The Deflategate report out today finds no evidence to corroborate that.

“Separate and apart from the issues that arose during the AFC Championship Game with respect to the inflation of Patriots game balls, questions were raised during the game with respect to the authenticity of one of the kicking balls (or “k-balls” as they are commonly known) used by the Patriots. We conclude that there is no evidence to support any finding of wrongdoing with respect to this kicking ball,” the report says.

There was some confusion about the k-balls during the AFC Championship Game. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski complained during the game that the ball he kicked off at the start of the game was in better shape than k-balls he kicked at subsequent times during the game, and he questioned why the first k-ball (which had been removed from the game to be sold at a charitable auction) couldn’t be retrieved. But the Deflategate investigation found that there was no wrongdoing within that confusion.

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Browns, Falcons may set precedent for Patriots punishment

2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game Getty Images

When the NFL imposed what appeared to be a pair of wrist slaps on the Browns and Falcons for violating the game-integrity rules regarding in-game texting and artificial crowd noise, respectively, it was confusing. Now, it may not be.

When the time comes for Commissioner Roger Goodell to discipline the Patriots, the most recent precedent comes from the fine plus no lost draft picks imposed on the Browns and the fine plus forfeited 2016 fifth-round pick imposed on the Falcons. The punishment of the Patriots should compare loosely to the punishment imposed on the Browns and Falcons — and what the Falcons did arguably is worse than what the Patriots did.

As noted at the time the Browns and Falcons punishments emerged, the fact that those teams admitted to their wrongdoing may have been a factor in the perceived lenience. But the finding in this case lacks the kind of smoking-gun clarity that the other cases exhibited. It could be that the Patriots won’t be hammered much worse than the Falcons.

Regardless, the decision to take a 2016 draft pick and not a 2015 draft pick from the Falcons now makes more sense. If the Falcons had been punished before the draft and the Patriots found responsible for a violation after the draft, the outcome would have seemed unfair. As it now stands, both teams will likely lose something in the 2016 draft — avoiding the potential incongruity of the Falcons but not the Patriots being punished via the 2015 draft for conduct occurring prior to it.

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Eagles sign three draft picks

Eric Rowe, Isiah Myers AP

The Eagles have joined the Bears and Buccaneers as teams that have started signing members of their 2015 draft class less than a week after the draft got underway.

The team announced Wednesday that they have signed second-round defensive back Eric Rowe, sixth-round cornerback Randall Evans and seventh-round defensive end Brian Mihalik to four-year contracts.

The Eagles traded up to take Rowe, who made 45 starts and intercepted three passes over his four years playing both cornerback and safety at Utah. He’s expected to get his first look at cornerback, where the Eagles signed Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond as free agents to go with Brandon Boykin in a revamped position group.

You can add Evans (and fellow sixth-rounder JaCorey Shepherd) to that group as well. Evans started his career at Kansas State as a walk-on, but went on to start 31 games and make the All Big-12 team in his senior season.

Mihalik started every game at Boston College last season and recorded 4.5 sacks. Like many third day picks, he and Evans will likely need to show special teams abilities if they’re going to be on the gameday roster as rookies.

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Stephen Jones: Veteran running back not a priority right now

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Veteran running back Chris Johnson told a TMZ cameraman that he’d be a good fit with the Cowboys and invited the team to “holler at me,” but it appears the Cowboys plan to do their hollering in different directions at the moment.

The Cowboys passed on taking a running back during the draft, making good on owner Jerry Jones’s assertion that the need to add a rookie back to Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar was “not urgent.” The team doesn’t seem to feel any different about veteran backs based on executive vice president Stephen Jones’s answer to a season ticket holder’s question about adding Johnson to the mix.

“We haven’t visited with Chris, and we can’t talk about him because he’s a free agent. But right now we’re looking at the guys that we have on our roster,” Jones said, via the team’s website. “He is somebody that is on a short list of ours that we think could ultimately come in and do some good things for us if we asked him to. But I wouldn’t say it’s a priority right now.”

The younger Jones has previously pointed to the Patriots’ acquisition of LeGarrette Blount during the 2014 season as an example of how teams can find veteran help in unexpected places. Waiting until November might not be the best plan, but there figure to be other opportunities as rosters shuffle around the league in the current months should the Cowboys shuffle their priorities.

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Wells Report: Officials couldn’t find game balls before AFC title game

AFC Championship - Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Getty Images

Rule Two, Section One of the NFL Rule Book states game footballs “shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.”

However, according to the Wells Report, when it came time for referee Walt Anderson and the officiating staff to take the game balls to the ball boys on the field 15 minutes before the AFC Championship game in January, the footballs were missing.

According to the report, Patriots officials locker room attendant Jim McNally took the footballs on to the field without the officials’ permission after bringing them into a bathroom for about 100 seconds.

Wrote the Wells Report investigators: “When it was suggested that McNally had or may have taken them to the field, Anderson responded that ‘he’s not supposed to do that.’ Anderson also stated that ‘we have to find the footballs.'”

The investigators also noted: “It was the first time in Anderson’s nineteen years as an NFL official that he could not locate the game balls at the start of a game.”

According to the Wells Report, Anderson and fellow NFL referee Clete Blakeman — also present for the AFC title game — described McNally’s removal of the footballs as unusual and not standard practice.

Wrote investigators: “Numerous game officials, including those assigned to the AFC Championship Game, told us that McNally generally does not remove the game balls from the Officials Locker Room without express permission or without being accompanied by one or more game officials. Walt Anderson said that in his experience, McNally has not removed, and is not permitted to remove, the game balls from the Officials Locker Room without his permission.

“Anderson also said that if McNally had asked to take the footballs to the field before he was ready to leave, he would have told McNally to wait. Anderson has always denied requests by ball boys and locker room attendants in other stadiums to take the game balls out before he was ready to go to the field.

“Similarly, Clete Blakeman—a referee on another officiating crew during the regular season — could not recall a previous instance where McNally took the game balls to the field on his own and without express permission. What happened on the day of the AFC Championship Game was, in his view, a ‘break in our normal protocol.'”

According to the Wells Report, McNally took the footballs out of the officiating locker room at 6:30, took them into the bathroom shortly thereafter and exited with the footballs at 6:32:27. He then took the footballs onto the field.

Less than three minutes later, Anderson and other officials went to look for the footballs — which had already departed, the Wells Report alleges.

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T.Y. Hilton on Phillip Dorsett pick: Nothing in NFL should surprise anybody

Cincinnati v Miami Getty Images

The Colts raised more than a few eyebrows last Thursday night when they selected wide receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round of the draft because they already had a strong crew of receivers on a team that many felt needed more beef on their defense.

Beyond that, Dorsett is a smallish, speedy receiver who looks a lot like T.Y. Hilton, who has caught 214 passes for 3,289 yards and 19 touchdowns during three seasons with the Colts. Don’t count Hilton among those who were surprised to see the Colts add another wideout even if his take on Dorsett’s arrival doesn’t suggest he thought wideout was a pressing need.

“There’s nothing I can do about that. That’s who they picked. That’s cool with me,” Hilton said, via the Indianapolis Star. “Nothing in this league should surprise anybody. (It was) a pick that they thought we needed, so I guess that’s what we needed to help this team.”

Hilton is entering the final year of his rookie contract, which has led some to suggest the Colts are being proactive in adding a player who could allow the offense to roll on unscathed should Hilton depart as a free agent. That may be the case, but the Colts’ wide receiver group might not look as stacked at this point next year even if Hilton gets a new deal.

Andre Johnson is turning 34 and Duron Carter has never played an NFL down, which leaves second-year player Donte Moncrief as the surest thing of the non-Dorsett and Hilton receivers on the roster after one year and 32 catches. While it’s certainly a stretch to say that receiver is a pressing need, the idea that Dorsett’s arrival is attached to Hilton’s future seems like it may be just as much of one.

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Cardinals claim Alfonzo Dennard off waivers from Patriots

Dennard Getty Images

In case you were jonesing for some Patriots news this afternoon, we’ve got you covered.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, former Pats cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has been claimed off waivers by the Cardinals.

The Patriots released Dennard yesterday, an oddly timed event considering they didn’t draft one until the seventh round, and the offseason program has been going on.

But the Cards were happy to add the depth to their secondary, since they didn’t draft one at all last weekend.

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Todd Herremans: Kelly is “equally racist to all races” so he’s “not racist”

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Before the Ted Wells report on Deflategate was released on Wednesday, it looked like Bills running back LeSean McCoy’s assertion that Eagles coach Chip Kelly got rid of “all the good black players” the “fastest” since becoming the coach of the Eagles.

It’s not the first time that Kelly’s been the target of such a broadside as ESPN talking head Stephen A. Smith made similar comments shortly after McCoy was traded to the Bills that McCoy referenced in the ESPN Magazine interview featuring his own thoughts. Not everyone jettisoned by Kelly this offseason shares the viewpoint.

Longtime Eagles guard Todd Herremans, who is white and now plays for the Colts, was released before the Eagles traded McCoy (and signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to fill his spot in the backfield) and was asked by a Twitter follower if he thought Kelly was a racist.

“I feel he is equally racist to all races … which I guess would make him … not racist,” Herremans wrote.

Last month, McCoy suggested that Kelly got rid of him and other players because he doesn’t like or respect star players. McCoy may not consider Herremans (or Nick Foles or other white players dispatched from Philly in the last few years) to be a star, but the sum total of Kelly’s moves suggest that skin color isn’t the determining factor of who stays or goes.

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“More probable than not” carries important legal meaning

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To the non-lawyer, the money quotes from the Ted Wells report suggest a mere probability that cheating occurred. But the specific terminology used by Wells actually indicates a belief that the evidence satisfies one of the most common standards used in a court of law.

“More probable than not” equates to a “preponderance of the evidence,” the standard that applies in most civil lawsuits. It means that the evidence makes it more likely than not, in the opinion of the investigator, that “New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” and that “Tom Brady . . . was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”

That’s a standard perhaps even higher than the one that applies to players accused of violating the Personal Conduct Policy, where “credible corroborating evidence” (even without cooperation from the alleged victim) can result in a significant suspension. Regardless, it’s enough proof on which the NFL can base punishment of a team.

“Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking,” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to the NFL’s Competition Committee in 2008, after the last game-integrity infraction involving the Patriots.  “I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established.”

Although there was nothing easy about the Wells investigation, his decision that a preponderance of the evidence points to a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules gives Goodell the green light to impose discipline.

Still, the use of the term “more probable than not” takes some of the sting out of the finding by allowing non-lawyers to believe that, as Patriots owner Robert Kraft has always said, there was no hard evidence of cheating. When it comes to issues of this nature, hard evidence isn’t needed to justify a stringent punishment.

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