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Schaap tells Te’o’s story, who admits he never met fake, dead girlfriend

Manti Te'o, Jeremy Schaap AP

Under the guise of a “get,” ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap has been enlisted as an unofficial P.R. agent for linebacker Manti Te’o.  And Schaap spent extensive time on SportsCenter presenting Te’o’s side of the story, serving as the indirect mouthpiece for a man who claims no involvement in a hoax but who after months of talking freely and loosely on camera suddenly has no desire to do so.

Schaap opened his extensive on-air monologue by vouching for Te’o’s credibility.

“He answered every question I asked,” Schaap said.  “He didn’t seem nervous.  He seemed to be able to communicate clearly about everything that had happened over the course of several years in his relationship with Lennay Kekua.  To my ears, he made a very convincing witness in his own defense.  I’m sure people will form their own judgments when we have a chance to put out more of what he said.  I don’t know how many questions were asked, but as I said he answered all of them, really unflinchingly.  If he’s making up his side of the story, he’s a very convincing actor.  Of course, there were suggestions over the last couple of days — more than suggestions, theories posited — about whether he was a party to this hoax, if he just helped perpetuate this hoax.  He adamantly denies having anything to do with it, and I asked him directly about that.”

After Schaap explained the situation for roughly 10 minutes, he was asked about Te’o’s demeanor.

“He was very composed, he was very collected,” Schaap said.  “There wasn’t any hemming or hawing.  He certainly seemed to have his timeline down straight.  I did not detect any inconsistencies.  And I think, you know, significantly from his point of view anyway, when it was over he was relieved.  He said he was very relieved to have unburdened himself of this.”

Schaap vouched for Te’o’s  credibility once again in explaining why Te’o didn’t want to do the interview on camera.

“Obviously we would have preferred to do this on camera,” Schaap said.  “He felt more comfortable in a setting without cameras, felt he could be more relaxed without a lot of people in the room.  Wanted this to be as natural a setting as possible.  I think it would have been beneficial to him to do this on camera because as I said he was very composed and collected but that’s not what he wanted to do.  It’s not the first time somebody hasn’t wanted to do an interview on camera.”

Schaap is right, but it’s the first time the otherwise camera-eager Te’o has spurned a camera.  And so instead of giving the audience at large an opportunity to watch him explain himself, the conduit to Te’o’s overall credibility is the guy who was granted an interview that Te’o didn’t have to give at all.  That fact naturally will make the interviewer — whoever it is — more inclined to paint the subject of the interview in a positive light.

Indeed, a questioner less friendly to Te’o’s predicament could have led the report with this statement:  “Te’o admitted that he never met the fake dead girlfriend, and that he lied to his family about meeting her.”  Choosing to focus on that aspect of the interview at the outset of the report would have prompted many to instantly wonder whether, if he lied to his family about meeting her, he’s lying to the rest of us about his lack of involvement in the hoax.

“I knew that — I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well,” Te’o told Schaap.  “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.”

In a court of law, having someone admit to a lie is powerful, because it gives the lawyer more than enough ammunition to argue that everything the person says shouldn’t be taken at face value, and possibly shouldn’t be believed at all.

And while Schaap claimed he detected no inconsistencies, Schaap’s explanation of Te’o’s ongoing references in the media to his dead girlfriend after learning that she wasn’t dead speaks to a stew of potential inconsistencies that, if fully and completely probed, could expose a flaw that would be fatal to Te’o’s entire story.

“[Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick] said that on December 6, Te’o got a phone call from a person who he believed to be Lennay Kekua, who he thought had died on September 12,” Schaap explained.  “Te’o says he did get that phone call on December 6, but that did not convince him that this had all been a hoax.  That took longer to get around to.  But between December 6 and December 26, when he went to Notre Dame to tell them about the problem, he continued to talk about Lennay Kekua, his girlfiend, in several interviews, including an interview with our Chris Fowler during the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 8th.  And [Te'o] explained why that happened, because he said he wasn’t convinced that Lennay Kekua hadn’t died, that she was a hoax, now he was thinking maybe she was alive.  She had given him some story about drug dealers.”

So why did he keep referring to her as being dead?

There are more tidbits that appeared not in Schaap’s on-air report (or in the original ESPN.com story that contained only 32 words from Te’o regarding his denial of involvement) that make us wonder how Te’o could have been oblivious to the existence of a hoax, which based on his admission that he lied to his father would cause a reasonable person to wonder whether he’s lying to the rest of us now.

First, the latest ESPN.com article says that “T’eo tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a ‘black box’ and wasn’t seen.”  Second, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o “planned to meet Kekua in person several times, including in Los Angeles and Hawaii, but on each occasion she called off the meeting or sent others in her place.”  Third, the ESPN.com article explains that “Kekua once requested his checking account number in order to send him money,” but that “Te’o did not provide his account number.”  Fourth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t go see her in the hospital when she was recovering from a car accident or battling leukemia because “it never crossed my mind” to do so.  Fifth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t attend Kekua’s funeral because “her mom didn’t want me to come.”

Perhaps the strangest question arises from Te’o’s claim to Schaap that, as explained by Schaap on air, “[r]ight up until a few hours before the Deadspin story broke two days ago [Te'o] wasn’t quite sure what happened but at that time he got a phone call from Ronaiah Tuiasospo in which he admitted that he had perpetrated this hoax and in a series of communications also apologized for it.”  The notion that Te’o “wasn’t quite sure what happened” until “a few hours before” the story broke doesn’t mesh with the very clear picture painted Wednesday night by Swarbrick of extensive meetings and a private investigation with a comprehensive report, or with the reported plan by Te’o to go public with the hoax two days before the story broke.

The only conclusion that we draw from any of this is that it’s still too early to draw any conclusions.  Te’o’s uncle has raised a potential financial incentive via raising funds for leukemia victims hasn’t been explored and wasn’t even mentioned anywhere in the on-air or online ESPN reports.

If Tuiasosopo used the fake dead girlfriend as a way to raise money, with or without the knowledge or assistance of Te’o, the appropriate authorities should look into the situation.  Indeed, the request for checking account numbers could be enough to green light a criminal investigation.  A high-profile case like this one would, if any laws were broken, send a strong message of deterrence to anyone who is tempted to “catfish” not for sport, but for profit.

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Kansas City Chiefs team bus involved in accident in Wisconsin

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The Kansas City Chiefs arrived in Wisconsin on Wednesday ahead of their preseason finale with the Green Bay Packers Thursday night.

However, they ran into an issue on their way to the team hotel.

According to the Associated Press, a vehicle containing two adults and three children entered an intersection and collided with one of the Chiefs’ five buses that were transporting them from the airport to the hotel.

The Outagamie County sheriff’s office was providing the caravan of buses with an escort when the bus was struck. One of the children in the car suffered a minor cut to their head and were taken to a hospital for treatment.

No one from the Chiefs was hurt in the incident.

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Bruce Arians says Darnell Dockett’s surgery “went great”

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The Arizona Cardinals lost defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for the season when he tore his ACL in practice two weeks ago.

While Dockett won’t be available to Arizona this season, the first stage of his recovery appears to have gone to plan.

According to Josh Wienfuss of ESPN.com, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Dockett’s surgery “went great.”

“He was in really good spirits,” Arians said. “Texted him back and forth, and he’s anxious to get back.”

The surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews. He is expected to return to Arizona after spending the next five days in Florida and is expected to remain with the team throughout his rehab. Arians wants Dockett to have a presence in the locker room and on the sidelines during games despite not being able to participate.

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Derek Carr gets a final opportunity to steal the Week One job

Carr Getty Images

None of the three first-round quarterbacks will be starting in Week One. But the first of the second-round quarterbacks could end up winning the gig in Oakland.

Derek Carr has one last chance, via the fourth game of the preseason, to make a case that he should get the chance to lead the Raiders into a minefield masquerading as a regular-season schedule.

“The more that I can be out there, the happier I’ll be,” Carr said, via Jerry McDonald of InsideBayArea.com. “That’s why we work so hard in the offseason. That’s why you spend so many hours here before anyone’s here. That’s why you do all those things, because you want to go out there and help the team win and I’m looking forward to it.”

With starter Matt Schaub dealing with a bad elbow and still-bruised psyche, Carr could with a strong showing against Seattle swipe the starting job.

“I’ve said it from Day One, the guy’s comfortable in the huddle,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “The game’s not too big for him. I still believe he sees the field very well. I don’t think the game’s too fast for him, which a lot of times is a concern with a rookie quarterback.”

Ultimately, Carr could be the first rookie quarterback to start, joining his older brother David as rookies who lined up under center to launch their rookie seasons.

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Julius Thomas thinks emphasis on defensive fouls could pump up his numbers

Thomas AP

Last year, Julius Thomas set the Broncos’ single-season record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end, with 12.  This year, he doesn’t have a specific goal to beat that. 

Generally, however, he realizes that his numbers could be even better, thanks to the renewed emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding.

Thomas addressed that and other topics during a recent visit with PFT Live.  The first subject?  Whether he thinks the NFL should outlaw Peyton Manning’s Rocky Top dance.

Thomas also identifies a guy on each side of the ball who could be due for a breakout year, like Thomas had a year ago.

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Vick, Cooper are “all good” after offseason snub

rs_560x415-130731200656-1024.VickCooper.ms.073113_copy AP

As the Jets prepare to end the preseason with a low-travel-cost trip to Philly, Mike Vick will return to the place where he spent five NFL seasons.  He recently told Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York that Vick’s proudest moment as a professional athlete came with the Eagles a year ago, when he defused the Riley Cooper situation.

Specifically, Vick stood up for and spoke out on behalf of Cooper, after he was caught on camera using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert.

Guys were mad at me for a while,” Vick said of his Eagles teammates.  “They were upset with me for a day or two, like six or seven guys who were just like, ‘Really, how could you do that?’ And then I’m getting phone calls from people everywhere, and my Twitter page is kind of in an uproar. But I took that stand for him, man, and I just hope at the end of the day that he appreciates that.

“I just hope he’s [appreciative] of my boldness to step out in front of the world and say what I said, and he appreciates what I did and understands the magnitude of it, because nobody else was going to step up and say anything. I could’ve said the same thing that 25 of my teammates were saying, and there was built-up anger.”

Some apparent anger built up for Vick in the offseason, after Cooper signed a new contract to stay in Philly, thanks in large part to the fact that Vick helped take the sting out of Cooper’s comments.

“A couple of things transpired since [the incident] that I dislike, and I’ll be honest with you,” Vick told O’Connor.  “After he signed his contract, I sent him a text and I never got a text back, and that made me feel a certain type of way.  But I’m not the type of guy who holds grudges.”

If Vick were a guy who held a grudge, it’s all been resolved.  Via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a Vick spokesman said Vick and Cooper have spoken today, and that they “are all good.”

Regardless, Vick’s comments should that the Cooper situation easily could have imploded both for the player and for the team, and that Vick had an important role in keeping it all together.

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Snyder has “started the process” of planning for a new stadium

fedex_field51332354 Getty Images

Despite being used only 10 times per year for NFL games (plus home postseason contests and, for some, a periodic Super Bowl), NFL stadiums become obsolete in roughly a single generation.

For Washington, where FedEx Field opened in 1997, the time is approaching for a new venue.  Owner Daniel Snyder tells CSN Washington that the team has “started the process” of planning for a new home.

“Whether it’s Washington, D.C., whether it’s another stadium in Maryland, whether it’s a stadium in Virginia, we’ve started the process,” Snyder said.  “We are going to push forward.  We’ve started meeting with architectural firms.  We are in the process of developing because it is a long term that you do it.”

Snyder says the new stadium would have a throwback look and feel.

“We’ve already seen some preliminary drawings and I’m going to be very retro with it,” Snyder said.  “It’s gonna feel like RFK.  It’s gonna move like RFK.  I love that, I actually asked architectural firms to do it and they said that they can do it.  I said that I think the lower bowl sections are going to want to rock the stadium like the old days.”

Snyder didn’t give a specific timetable for opening a new stadium, but he said,  “I’d like to see it sooner than later.”  He’d also like to see it host a fairly significant annual event.

“I think this region, not only this town, this region deserves a Super Bowl,” Snyder said.  “It ought to be here, it would be a fantastic accomplishment.  It’s the biggest sporting event in the globe.  It’s the nation’s capital, it’s a no-brainer.”

It’s also a no-brainer that, as Snyder embarks on securing partial public funding (because one of the benefits of being really rich is finding a way to get other people to pay for your stuff), he’ll need to be willing to consider trading the team name for taxpayer money and, possibly, the privilege of hosting a Super Bowl.  That way, Snyder can eventually declare victory in a debate that will end either with Snyder voluntarily changing the moniker in exchange for something tangible or involuntarily losing it, without any type of compensation.

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Titans announce extension with Jurrell Casey

Jurrell Casey, Kamerion Wimbley AP

The Titans and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey were talking about a contract extension for the last couple of months and those talks have reached a fruitful conclusion.

The Titans announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached a multiyear deal with Casey, who is coming off a 10.5-sack season that left him as one of the most productive  pass rushers at the position. PFT has learned from Casey’s agent Drew Rosenhaus that it is a four-year extension through 2018 worth as much as $36 million with $20.5 million guaranteed. It is not known how full those guarantees are, but we do know General Manager Ruston Webster is excited that the deal is done.

“We are excited to come to an agreement on an extension with Jurrell,” Webster said, via the team. “This is something Jurrell has earned not only with his play on the field but his work ethic as well. We appreciate Jurrell’s professionalism through this process and look forward to many good years to come.”

The 2011 third-round pick was heading into the final year of his deal before reaching agreement on the extension. He’s been a starter since his rookie season, but 2013 was his breakthrough year in terms of production. The Titans made it clear on Wednesday that they expect it to be his standard moving forward. If so, they have a foundation piece for their defense for years to come.

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Cowboys claim Patriots pick Jemea Thomas off waivers

jemeathomas AP

The Patriots spent a sixth-round draft pick on defensive back Jemea Thomas this year, and Thomas was so unimpressive in training camp that he didn’t even survive the first round of roster cuts. But he’ll now get a shot in Dallas.

Thomas was claimed on waivers by the Cowboys today, a day after he was placed on waivers by the Patriots.

Thomas played both cornerback and safety at Georgia Tech and was also viewed heading into the draft as a player with the potential to be a solid contributor on special teams. He didn’t show much of anything in three months of work with New England.

But in Dallas, where they’re desperate for talent on defense, there’s a decent chance that Thomas can stick around beyond Saturday’s cut down to the 53-man roster. The Patriots saw Thomas’s talent before the draft, and the Cowboys still think he has promise, even if he couldn’t cut it in New England.

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Steelers won’t suspend post-pot arrest, this time

Steelers Getty Images

When it comes to applying and enforcing internal rules, the Steelers (like most sports teams) operate not with bright lines but a golf bag.  And they carefully select a club based on, ultimately, the overriding duty to win as many football games as possible.

That’s why it’s no surprise that the Steelers won’t be suspending running back Le’Veon Bell or LeGarrette Blount for last week’s Cheech and Chong meets Dumb and Dumber marijuana episode.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains that the Steelers won’t suspend either player.  He bases his conclusion on the plain language of the labor deal, which prohibits teams from taking matters into their own hands regarding alcohol and drug offenses.

While entirely accurate, that provision didn’t stop coach Mike Tomlin from sitting former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes with pay in 2008, after a mid-week marijuana citation.  It also didn’t stop the Steelers from suspending former defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu after a DUI incident.

In this case, a suspension of the two players involved would put the team in a tough spot for the regular-season opener against the Browns.  And so the discipline will be meted out in some other way, the team will defer (for a change) to the league office, and this specific incident of arguable compliance with the CBA will be forgotten the next time a guy who is less important to the cause gets in trouble and the team decides to make an example out of him.

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Browns admit to “strong feelings” about “timing and process” of Gordon decision

Farmer AP

The Browns shouldn’t be happy that it took more than three months for the NFL to resolve the status of receiver Josh Gordon.  And they aren’t.

“While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day-to-day approach,” G.M. Ray Farmer said in a statement issued by the team.  “Right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time, supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension.”

That’s a polite way of saying, “We’re pissed that it took this long to get an answer.”

But as the Browns focus on what they can control, the fact remains that the Browns could have controlled trading Gordon last year (they chose not to) or drafting Sammy Watkins in May (they chose to trade the pick).

Without Gordon, the depth chart now features Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson, and a collection of no-names.  The Browns possibly will find someone who is cut by another team, or maybe swing a trade.  Either way, the receiver position quickly has become a weakness.

Although the Browns arguably (if not actually) were jerked around by the league, they knew this was coming.

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Today, Jerry Jones says season will be “uphill battle”

Jerry Jones AP

It was only about 24 hours ago that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was talking about the “glitz and glamour,” of his team.

(We just kind of assume at this point he’s always thinking about gloryhole too.)

But today, he was singing a different tune, painting a less shiny picture of what might be about to happen to his team.

At the team’s kickoff luncheon (rarely the kind of event that brings realism, much less pessimism), Jones told his players: “our back’s up against the wall.”

You know that we have an uphill battle this year,” Jones said, via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com. “And we do have an uphill battle. But most of you had an uphill battle when you came to camp. Most of you did. And some of you have absolutely rose to the occasion.”

It’s hard to find too many who are optimistic about their chances, coming off three straight 8-8 seasons, with no real improvement to a defense that wasn’t good to begin with.

And the fact Dr. Jones himself is tempering the expectations now shouldn’t be a good sign.

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With Christine Michael injured, Seahawks bring back a back

Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

We knew the Seahawks performed the man-bites-dog act of claiming a Jaguars player last night, but a new injury forced another move today.

The team announced the re-signing of running back Demetrius Bronson and the waiver claim of center Patrick Lewis today, and the release of linebacker Marcus Dowtin and guard Greg Van Roten.

Bronson was cut Monday, but they needed him back after running back Christine Michael tweaked his hamstring in practice Tuesday. As a result, he isn’t expected to play in the preseason finale tomorrow night.

And more than likely, Bronson will find his name in the transactions again soon, but not before he gets a last chance to make an impression — on the Seahawks or someone else.

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Pete Carroll: We’re trying to do things exactly right

Pete Carroll AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll confirmed Wednesday that reports of a minicamp fight involving cornerback Richard Sherman were the impetus for a NFL review of their offseason practices that found the team violated the rules governing contact at those workouts, but said that the team was not intentionally trying to flout the rules.

Carroll said that “we’re trying to do things exactly right” in terms of what goes on during practices after being penalized on the same grounds in 2012, but the league thought otherwise after asking to see film of the practice in question and others from the team’s minicamp. That review led to a reported fine of over $100,000 for Carroll personally and more than $200,000 for the team as well as the loss of minicamp days next year. Carroll said he didn’t feel like the Seahawks were being victimized by receiving a second penalty.

“No, I don’t feel like the victim. No, I don’t at all. I think that we practice in a manner that draws attention, and we have for a long time. And I go back: A year ago and halfway through this camp, when they observed what was going on, they said everything was just fine so we kept going and just kept working. I was really pleased with that but unfortunately it went otherwise when we got to mini camp.”

Carroll wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the penalty, although we’d imagine he could think of better uses for the money he owes the league.

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Bengals announce Burfict extension

Burfict Getty Images

It took awhile, but it’s finally official.

The Bengals have announced that linebacker Vontaze Burfict has signed a new deal.  It puts him under contract through 2017.

Burfict, the NFL’s leading tackler in 2013, was eligible for a new deal because he wasn’t drafted.  It’s a strange donut hole in the current labor deal, which forces incoming rookies to wait three years to renegotiate, if drafted.

“Vontaze is a special talent; he has shown us that from his first day here,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He is a load physically and he’s extremely competitive, but what really makes him stand out is the instinct and feel he has for the game. It’s something born in him, you can’t coach a player to naturally react the way he does in all situations. This signing is a great move for the future of our defense.”

“It’s unusual to sign a player this early in his career to a contract extension, but Vontaze is a player who merits this,” executive vice president Katie Blackburn said. “He has proven to be an exceptional find for us, and we are happy to reward him now for his accomplishments. It’s good for him and good for our team.”

Burfict plunged through the draft due to a variety of concerns, from a failed drug test at the Scouting Combine to questions regarding whether he could control his temper on the field to a bad performance (both on the field and before the media) in Indianapolis to a bad Pro Day.  Mike Mayock described Burfict at one point as non-draftable.  Burfict remained optimistic, despite getting no pre-draft visits or workouts.

The Bengals didn’t draft Burfict, but they took a chance on him as an undrafted free agent.  It paid off for the Bengals, and it’s now paying off for Burfict.

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Tommy Kelly signing with Cardinals

Tommy Kelly AP

The Cardinals continued their search for help on the defensive line in the wake of Darnell Dockett’s ACL tear by bringing defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to town for a visit on Wednesday and it looks like they had more luck with him than Brett Keisel.

PFT has learned that Kelly will be signing with the Cardinals a couple of days after he was released by the Patriots.

Kelly is coming off an ACL tear of his own in 2013 and wasn’t able to convince the Patriots that he was worth bringing back for another season. He’ll get at least a few days to give the Cardinals a reason to draw a different conclusion. Kelly had 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks in five games last season before getting hurt last year.

Frostee Rucker is getting the first look at Dockett’s spot for the Cardinals, who also signed Isaac Sopoaga since Dockett was injured.

UPDATE 4:02 p.m. ET: The Cardinals have announced that Kelly signed a one-year deal and that they have released defensive tackle Ryan McBean to make room for him on their 75-man roster.

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