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A lawsuit from Callahan would be difficult, messy

bill-callahan-raiders-super-bowl AP

As the allegations of sabotage in Super Bowl XXXVII grew, it was only a matter of time before former Raiders coach Bill Callahan addressed them.  And address them he did, via a late-night statement suggesting that he has gotten himself lawyered up.

By uttering the “D” word (not the one that ends in “bag”), Callahan and/or whoever wrote the statement is making it clear to Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and the persons who represent their legal interests that litigation is at least being contemplated.

But while a defamation lawsuit against one or both former players would become great theater, it would entail many challenges — and cause significant collateral damage for Callahan, and possibly others.

1.  The statute of limitations against Brown possibly has expired. 

When pressed last night by Erik Kuselias of Pro Football Talk on the assertion of sabotage a decade after the game, Brown said that he has been talking about his suspicions on national television and Dallas radio for years.  Which means that, if Brown is sued, his first defense will be that Callahan waited too long to sue.

In most jurisdictions, the statute of limitations is one year.  It has been more than one year since Brown made his statements in a public setting.

I haven’t research the issue completely (which as I learned early in my legal career is standard lawyer code for “I don’t really know what I’m talking about”), so it’s entirely possible that, in whichever jurisdiction Callahan would sue, each utterance of the false statement sets the clock back to zero.

2.  The difference between fact and opinion.

If a lawsuit is filed (and if it’s determined to be within the statute of limitations), the biggest challenge will be drawing a line between fact and opinion.  False statements of fact can lead to litigation; uninformed or incorrect opinions based on actual facts are protected.

The factual assertion from Brown is that Callahan drastically changed the offensive game plan two days before Super Bowl XXXVII.  Brown’s opinion is that Callahan was trying to sabotage the Raiders.

It’s a fine line, but Brown arguably has stayed on the right side of it.  Even last night, when he was as candid as he’s ever been about his beliefs, Brown said, “I’m not necessarily saying he [changed the game plan] for that reason, but it happened.”

Rice may not have been as careful.  “For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me,” Rice said Tuesday on ESPN. “In a way, maybe because he didn’t like the Raiders, he decided, ‘Maybe we should sabotage this a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one.’”

3.  Callahan is a public figure.

For ordinary citizens, any untrue statement of fact can provide the basis for a defamation lawsuit.  For public figures, a higher standard applies.

Callahan will have to show that Brown and Rice knew the allegations were false, or that they acted with reckless disregard to the truth or falsity of their comments.  That necessarily makes any case of defamation against a public figure like Callahan harder to prove.

In this case, it means that Brown and Rice would give detailed testimony on what they experienced that caused them to believe what they believed.  They’ll surely say that something different happened before that game than anything they’d experienced in all their years of playing football, which caused them to believe that Callahan was up to something.

Against a private citizen, that may not matter.  Against a public figure, that explanation could result in the case being tossed before it ever would be presented to a jury.

4.  Callahan would expose himself to significant criticism.

If the case goes forward, many former Raiders players and coaches will be questioned under oath.  And while they will have different perceptions and beliefs about the reasons for the decisions made and not made by Callahan, the questioning will rehash everything that happened in preparation for the game, including whether the game plan was changed and why the audibles and other terminology installed by Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden during his time as the Raiders coach wasn’t.

In other words, and as Kuselias framed the issue last night, Callahan was either corrupt or incompetent.  By proving he wasn’t corrupt, Callahan could end up shining a bright light on the notion that he is incompetent.

5.  Plenty of big names will be involved.

If it goes to trial, this lawsuit ultimately could top, from a media standpoint, every lawsuit ever filed or threatened by the late Al Davis.  The parade in and out of the courtroom would be even more impressive than the  Seinfeld finale, with guys like Rich Gannon and Tyrone Wheatley and Lincoln Kennedy and Bill Romanowski and Rod Woodson and Charles Woodson and Charlie Garner and maybe even Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski making the walk to the witness stand, along with members of the 2002 Raiders coaching staff, including current NFL head coaches Marc Trestman and Jim Harbaugh.

Jon Gruden would likely make an appearance at some point, possibly along with members of the Buccaneers defense (which had guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch), who would be able to shed light on whether or not Gruden seemed to know what was going to happen, and possibly why he knew that.

Current and former NFL head coaches like Rod Marinelli, Raheem Morris, and Mike Tomlin — all members of the 2002 Buccaneers coaching staff — also could be involved, along with former Bucs (and current Cowboys) defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

At one point during the game, Lynch told Tomlin, “Mike, every play they’ve run, we ran in practice.  It’s unreal.”

Said Tomlin in response, “I know.”

The biggest name of all could be the guy who won’t be able to directly participate.  If the game plan was indeed changed by Callahan, we continue to believe the most plausible explanation is that Callahan was ordered to do so by owner Al Davis.  It would be fitting if the outcome of the lawsuit turns on whether a jury believes that Callahan was simply following the marching orders given to him by one of the most litigious owners in sports history.

6.  What should happen next.

Though it would be fascinating to cover the litigation and any trial that would happen, the smart move in the short term would be for Brown and Rice to issue statements explaining clearly that they are merely stating their opinions, based on the facts that they experienced.

And then they should never discuss the situation publicly again.

While on one hand the issuance of statements would suggest that they fear litigation, on the other hand it would be a prudent way of both putting a bow on a story that has quickly taken on a life of its own and managing potential liability risks.

Either way, the ball is not back in Brown’s and Rice’s court.

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Bengals roll over Dolphins, 22-7

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) carries the ball as Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) chases him during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores) AP

The Dolphins scored on their second offensive play Thursday night.

For the rest of the night, the Dolphins got steamrolled.

With wide receiver A.J. Green and the defensive line leading the way, the Bengals overwhelmed the Dolphins and went on to win, 22-7. Mike Nugent kicked five field goals, and the Bengals defense made it so the offense didn’t have to lament settling for those field goals.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills with 9:04 left in the first quarter, and the Dolphins didn’t score again. The Dolphins’ makeshift offensive line was no match for the Bengals defensive front.

It was not one that will go on the Thursday Night Football highlight reel, nor the Dolphins’ highlight reel. Tannehill was 15-of-25 for 189 yards and was sacked five times, twice by Carlos Dunlap.

Eight of the Dolphins’ first nine possessions were four plays or fewer. The Bengals had the ball for 21:36 in the first half and 38:02 for the game.

The Bengals had 362 total yards. The Dolphins had 222.

Green had 10 catches for 173 yards and the game’s only touchdown. He was over 100 yards in the first half. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was 22-of-31 for 296 yards.

The Bengals are 2-2 and are at the Cowboys on Oct. 9. The Dolphins are 1-3 and next host the Titans.

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Report: Watt’s season likely over after surgery

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 09:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans warms up before playing against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt underwent back surgery Thursday that’s expected to keep him out for the rest of the season, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

The Texans officially placed Watt on injured reserve Wednesday.

Watt missed all of training camp and the preseason after having surgery to repair a herniated disc in July.

The Texans are 2-1 and host the Titans Sunday.

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Dunlap, Bengals defense keeping Dolphins in neutral

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) carries the ball as Cincinnati Bengals' Clayton Fejedelem pursues during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers) AP

Everything has been a struggle for the Dolphins except third down defense.

The Bengals keep kicking field goals and keep feeding A.J. Green, and they lead 19-7 in the third quarter. Mike Nugent has four field goals.

The Bengals think they should have more touchdowns than the one they have, but their defense has made it so they’re comfortably in charge. Andy Dalton keeps feeding Green, who had eight catches for 123 yards in the first half and had another big catch on the Bengals’ first field goal drive of the second half.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was just 3-of-9 for 83 yards in the first half despite getting 74 on his second throw, a touchdown to Kenny Stills. The Dolphins have moved the ball in the third quarter but the Bengals defense tightened and sacked Tannehill out of field goal range to end the Dolphins’ first drive.

Midway through the third quarter, Carlos Dunlap has two of the Bengals’ three sacks.

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Green dominating, Bengals lead 16-7 at halftime

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) runs the ball against Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers) AP

The Dolphins have no answer for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.

Thanks to some stalled Bengals drives and timely defense, the Dolphins are still in the game. They trail at halftime, 16-7.

Mike Nugent has three field goals for the Bengals, who are angry they didn’t score a touchdown off a Carlos Dunlap strip sack late in the first half.

Green has eight catches for 123 yards. He had five for 80 yards and a touchdown on his first five targets. The Dolphins can’t stop Green but have slowed the Bengals’ run game and forced Andy Dalton to go away from Green on some third downs.

Besides a 74-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on their second play and third-down defense, not much has gone right. The Bengals had the ball for nearly 22 minutes in the first half and own a huge edge (239-122) in total yardage as well.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was just 3-of-9 for 83 yards despite getting 74 on his second throw.

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A.J. Green is (still) really, really good

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 12:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the football upfield during the game against Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium on August 12, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

There are times that Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green just makes it look easy.

On the second drive Thursday night, for example.

Tightly covered along the sideline by Dolphins rookie Xavien Howard, Green just outjumped him and came down inbounds on a 51-yard gain. Two plays later Green caught a 19-yard pass from Andy Dalton, then two plays after that he caught a short pass, gave Tony Lippett a stiffarm and turned it into a 7-yard touchdown.

That score gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter. Through 12 minutes, Green has five catches on five targets for 80 yards.

The Dolphins took a 7-3 lead on a 74-yard bomb from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills on their second play from scrimmage.

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Stills goes deep to give Dolphins early lead

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of New England Patriots defensive back Justin Coleman (22) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) AP

A 74-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills has given the Dolphins an early 7-3 lead on the Bengals.

The Bengals were blitzing, and it appeared Stills broke off his designed route to go deep.

The touchdown came on the Dolphins’ second play from scrimmage and marked the first time in their last eight road games that the Dolphins have scored a first quarter touchdown.

The Bengals got the ball first and put together a methodical drive that stalled out in Miami territory. Mike Nugent kicked a 42-yard field goal to open the scoring.

The Bengals announced that running back and special teams player Rex Burkhead suffered a hamstring injury on the opening kickoff. His return is doubtful.

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NFL officially announces Lady Gaga as Super Bowl halftime headliner

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Lady Gaga sings the National Anthem at Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Matt Cowan/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL made it official Thursday, announcing that six-time Grammy winner Lady Gaga will headline this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

The news had been previously reported by Sports Business Daily. Super Bowl LI is in Houston on Feb. 5.

A formal announcement that includes an interview with Lady Gaga will air this Sunday, Oct. 2, on FOX’s NFL Sunday pregame show.

Lady Gaga sang the national anthem before last year’s Super Bowl.

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Gordon tweets “see you soon;” Jackson says Browns support him

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 8:  Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns catches a pass before a game with the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Not long after announcing via a team press release that he’d be entering a treatment facility, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon tweeted that he’s been “under some pressure and stress recently [and] had to take a time out for myself. Sometimes you have to do what’s best for you.”

Gordon also thanked the NFL and the Browns. In a separate tweet Gordon wrote, “see you soon.”

The announcement that his return, which could have happened next week, is on hold came late Thursday afternoon. On his Thursday evening radio show, Browns coach Hue Jackson said the Browns “support Gordon 100 percent.”

Jackson said “it’s unfortunate” that the Browns won’t be getting Gordon back in their lineup but said “Josh needs to do what’s best for Josh.”

As part of his conditional reinstatement, Gordon had been at the Browns facility and had been allowed to participate in team meetings while sitting out the first four games of the 2016 season.

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Tunsil moves out to tackle with Albert inactive

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:   Branden Albert #76 of the Miami Dolphins in action against the New York Jets during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 29, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Left tackle Branden Albert is one of four Dolphins offensive starters inactive for Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati.

Albert had been listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Also out are tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), center Mike Pouncey (hip) and running back Arian Foster (hamstring). Pouncey has yet to play this season, and Foster also missed last week’s game.

The Dolphins also announced Damien Williams as the starter at running back. Rookie Laremy Tunsil will move out from guard to start in place of Albert, and Billy Turner will start at Tunsil’s usual spot of left guard.

Two starting linebackers, Koa Misi (neck) and Jelani Jenkins (groin), are also out due to injuries.

Dolphins Coach Adam Gase had hinted at changes to the lineup even before injuries forced at least a few of them. As previously reported, Tony Lippett is replacing Byron Maxwell in the starting lineup at cornerback.

As expected, Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard will start in place of the injured Dre Kirkpatrick. The Bengals also have decided to keep tight end Tyler Eifert out at least another week. They had listed Eifert and Kirkpatrick as doubtful.

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Week Four is here; which game is the biggest?

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jacoby Brissett #7 of the New England Patriots warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Friday’s PFT Live features a question of the day that focuses on the weekend to come. Specifically, which game is the biggest game of the fourth week of the season?

Pick from one of the five selections below, defend your selection in the comments, attack the selections of others, or complain about the decision to omit a contest like Lions-Bears.

You can also correct preemptively everyone who will improperly refer to this weekend as the “quarter pole” of the season.

Guests include Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com, Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, and perhaps someone from the team that wins on Thursday night, when the Dolphins face the Bengals.

The Dolphins, by the way, are 15-3 against Cincinnati since the merger, a fact that is not relevant to Thursday’s game but nevertheless extremely interesting — especially since PFT Live producer Rob “Stats” Guerrera strongly believes it isn’t.

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Man arrested for entering Broncos facility, threatening John Elway

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 08:  General Manager John Elway holds the Lombardi Trophy to celebrate the Denver Broncos in win Super Bowl 50 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High before taking on the Carolina Panthers on September 8, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

A great Sunday in Cincinnati for the Broncos was followed by a bizarre Monday morning.

Via KUSA in Denver, a man was arrested on Monday for entering the team’s facility, making strange accusations, and issuing a vague threat to a security officer and G.M. John Elway.

36-year-old Cordell Robinson entered through an unlocked door in the team’s media room at 7:10 a.m. local time, walked to the lobby, and began taking photographs of the trophies. Asked to leave, Robinson allegedly claimed that the Broncos owe him money, and that he owns 20 percent of the franchise.

Asked to leave again, Robinson said to the security officer that Robinson would “get him and Elway.”

Robinson faces charges of second-degree criminal trespass.

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Report: Dolphins bench Byron Maxwell

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, center, is stopped after short gain by Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (53) and defensive back Byron Maxwell (41) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) AP

The Dolphins will bench cornerback Byron Maxwell and start Tony Lippett in his place Thursday night against the Bengals, NFL Network reported.

Maxwell, acquired in a trade with the Eagles last March, has started the first three games. He’s broken up four passes and forced a fumble, but the Dolphins have struggled and the defense has given up too many big plays in the passing game.

The Eagles traded Maxwell a year after signing him to a six-year, $63 million contract.

Lippett is a second-year player who played in nine games as a rookie and has played in all three this season as a backup.

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With Colts-Jaguars, NFL sends more bad football to London

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:   Trent Cole #58 of the Indianapolis Colts hits the arm of  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the game at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

If the NFL wants to get more popular in England, perhaps it should stop scheduling such bad games there.

With the 1-2 Colts facing the 0-3 Jaguars on Sunday, the NFL will be fielding its 15th regular season game in London. And not a single one of them has matched up two teams with winning records. Six of them have matched up two teams with losing records.

Here’s the full list of regular season games in London, with the teams’ records heading into the game:

2007: Giants (5-2) vs. Dolphins (0-7)
2008: Chargers (3-4) vs. Saints (3-4)
2009: Patriots (4-2) vs. Buccaneers (0-6)
2010: Broncos (2-5) vs. 49ers (1-6)
2011: Bears (3-3) vs. Buccaneers (4-2)
2012: Patriots (4-3) vs. Rams (3-4)
2013: Steelers (0-3) vs. Vikings (0-3)
2013: 49ers (5-2) vs. Jaguars (0-7)
2014: Dolphins (1-2) vs. Raiders (0-3)
2014: Lions (5-2) vs. Falcons (2-5)
2014: Cowboys (6-3) vs. Jaguars (1-8)
2015: Jets (2-1) vs. Dolphins (1-2)
2015: Bills (3-3) vs. Jaguars (1-5)
2015: Lions (1-6) vs. Chiefs (2-5)
2016: Colts (1-2) vs. Jaguars (0-3)

No undefeated team has ever played in London, but on Sunday the Jaguars will become the sixth winless team to play in London.

A big problem facing the NFL is that good teams don’t want to give up home games to play in London. In fact, last year the Chiefs became the first team to give up a home game to London and still finish the season with a winning record. As long as second-tier teams are going to London, the NFL is going to have a hard time getting London fans excited.

With the 2-1 Giants playing the 2-1 Rams in London later this month, it’s possible that London fans will finally see something they haven’t seen yet: A game featuring two winning teams.

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Marvin Jones added to Lions injury report

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 25: Marvin Jones #11 of the Detroit Lions catches a touchdown pass against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 25, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 34-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Wide receiver Marvin Jones signed with the Lions as a free agent this offseason and he’s fit right in with his new team in the first three games of the season.

Jones leads the league in receiving yards with 408 and is coming off a six-catch/205-yard/two-touchdown performance in Week Three’s loss to the Packers. Jones’ chances of building on those numbers could be impacted by a hamstring injury, however.

Jones is on Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant in practice after not being on the report at all after Wednesday’s practice. That suggests that Jones may have come down with the injury during practice and will make Friday’s practice one to watch for a better idea about how much the hamstring might affect him against the Bears on Sunday.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (quad) remained out of practice for the Lions while tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) got in a limited practice after missing Wednesday’s session.

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Josh Gordon entering rehab, NFL return on hold

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon stands on the field during practice at the NFL football team's training camp, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard) AP

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon announced Thursday that he’ll enter an in-patient treatment facility and that his NFL return is on hold.

Gordon was conditionally reinstated by the NFL in July and would have been eligible to fully return to the Browns on Monday, Oct. 3 and play in the team’s Oct. 9 game. He was suspended for the first four games of 2016 as part of the terms of reinstatement from his previous suspension.

“After careful thought and deep consideration I’ve decided that I need to step away from pursuing my return to the Browns and my football career to enter an in-patient rehabilitation facility,” Gordon said in a statement. “This is the right decision for me and one that I hope will enable me to gain full control of my life and continue on a path to reach my full potential as a person. I appreciate the support of the NFL, NFLPA, the Browns, my teammates, my agent and the community through this extremely challenging process.”

Gordon led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards in 2013. He’s played in just five games since due to two different NFL suspensions and a one-game team suspension at the end of 2014. Gordon participated in training camp when healthy in August and played in two preseason games.

“We support Josh in taking this step to seek additional help and treatment,” Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “His singular focus must be on his own health. We want nothing more than for Josh to be successful personally and professionally and will not comment on his status with the organization at this time.”

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