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A lawsuit from Callahan would be difficult, messy

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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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Reggie Wayne unsure if he’ll play in 2015

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Longtime Colts receiver Reggie Wayne doesn’t know yet if his NFL career has reached its conclusion.

Wayne said after the Colts lost the AFC Championship Game that he didn’t have a plan for 2015, and he still doesn’t. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Wayne had triceps surgery and is still mulling whether to play in 2015.

If Wayne does want to play, it’s unclear whether it will be in Indianapolis. Wayne becomes a free agent on March 10 and there has been no talk of any contract discussions with the Colts.

Wayne started 15 games last year, but he was limited to 64 catches for 779 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers are his worst across the board for any full season of his 15-year career. So if the 36-year-old Wayne wants to play, it’s unclear whether any team will want him.

In other words, Wayne’s great career may have come to an end. Even if he doesn’t know that yet.

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AEG says Inglewood stadium presents terrorism threat

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In the Gumball Rally that has emerged as Inglewood and Carson race to build stadiums in the L.A. area, the company that has been trying to build a downtown venue for the past several years has thrown a fistful of nails into the path of the project proposed for the now-defunct Hollywood Park.

Via Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, a study commissioned by AEG concludes that the Inglewood site presents an unacceptable risk of terrorism.

The study, performed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, warns that terrorists may try to hijack or shoot down a plane landing at LAX, with the goal of crashing it into the stadium.  Ridge calls the possibility a “a terrorist event ‘twofer.’”

The NFL is aware of the report, but it doesn’t seem to be ready to endorse it.

“We feel that the best approach is to look at these things with an independent eye,” NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman told the Times.  “You should assume the NFL has its own experts hired and at work to assess any potential NFL site, in any city, regarding these matters.  And it is that advice that we will rely on.”

AEG has a clear bias; it wants to build the stadium in which one or two NFL teams will play.  But the concerns shouldn’t be dismissed.  The Inglewood site is in the LAX landing path.  If/when a Super Bowl is played there, any and every plane that passed by becomes the potential weapon for mayhem and destruction that would rival — and possibly surpass — the events of September 11, 2001.

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Browns sign Josh McCown

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Josh McCown is a Cleveland Brown.

The veteran quarterback and the Browns have agreed on a contract today, the team and McCown’s agent Mike McCartney both confirmed on Twitter.

McCown was released this month after a rough first year in Tampa Bay. He previously had a very promising showing during the 2013 season while filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Cleveland has to hope it’s getting the Chicago version of McCown, and not the Tampa Bay version of McCown.

Cleveland also has to hope that McCown can work well with Johnny Manziel, teaching Manziel what it takes to become an NFL quarterback but also starting for the Browns this season if Manziel isn’t ready.

The arrival of McCown in Cleveland will almost certainly mean that free agent Brian Hoyer, Cleveland’s starter for most of last season, is going to sign elsewhere.

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Sean Payton envisions virtual reality training for quarterbacks

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During multiple coach and G.M. interviews at the Scouting Combine, I spitballed about the possibility of the NFL eventually developing a flight simulator-style approach to preparing quarterbacks for game reps.  For a change, the spitball stuck to the wall.

Appearing on a panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Saints coach Sean Payton suggested that a tool like that could be in the offing.

“The challenge we have all the time is that it’s the one position where there’s only one of them in the game the entire time,” Payton said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com.  “The game ends, and how do you get those guys snaps, real-time snaps?  Much like we develop pilots — they do a lot of simulator work — I think the opportunity exists [in football].  Especially when you’re able to accurately show movement with chips, exactly how it unfolds with the defense.”

If anything, it seems overdue that these billion-dollar businesses have yet to develop a way to expose young quarterbacks (especially incoming rookies who have been running spread and/or one-read offenses in college) to the blender of choices that must be made before and during a play at the next level.

From making the right pre-snap read to adjusting the offensive line as needed to keeping an eye on whether the blocking scheme works to keeping an eye on the strong safety to making the progression through the primary, secondary, and tertiary (nerd!) receiving options to hoping the running back picked up any blitzing linebackers to sensing whether the blind side defensive end is about to flatten him, finding a way to simulate that process without exposing the quarterback to any physical risk makes a lot of sense.

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Report: Ravens reach two-year deal with Christo Bilukidi

Christo Bilukidi AP

The Ravens have reportedly reached a deal with a player who could have been eligible for restricted free agency.

The club has agreed to a two-year contract with defensive lineman Christo Bilukidi, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported Friday.

Bilukidi (6-5, 320) appeared in four games as a reserve for Baltimore in 2014. The 25-year-old Georgia State product has also seen regular-season action with Oakland (2012-2013) and Cincinnati (2013). He was a sixth-round pick of the Raiders in the 2012 NFL Draft. According to Wilson, an ankle injury ended Bilukidi’s 2014 campaign.

Bilukidi figures to vie for playing time in the Ravens’ defensive line rotation in 2015.

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Falcons waive Jonathan Massaquoi

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The Falcons have followed up three deletions on the offensive side of the ball by dropping a member of their defense.

Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi has been waived after three years with the team. Massaquoi was the 164th pick of the 2012 draft out of Troy and had a year left on his rookie deal.

The Falcons were starved for pass rush help last year, but usually looked elsewhere in hopes of finding it. Massaquoi saw 333 snaps on defense last season and had two sacks, which leaves him with six for his three-year career. The new coaching staff obviously didn’t think that was a mistake on the part of the previous regime and Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Massaquoi upset people last year for skipping treatments on his foot.

There’s minimal cap savings with Massaquoi out of the way, but the above suggests this wasn’t a financially motivated move. Massaquoi can be claimed on waivers by any team and will become a free agent if no one avails themselves of that option.

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Lions hang onto the “Nolan Ryan of long snapping”

Nolan Ryan, Robin Ventura AP

Friday afternoon’s when you’re supposed to dump your bad news, like the Cardinals did today.

The Lions, however, did something awesome.

Via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, the Lions re-signed long snapper Don Muhlbach to a new one-year contract.

That’s not the awesome part, though. The awesome part is his nickname, as they refer to him as the “Nolan Ryan of long snappers.”

Former Lions General Manager Matt Millen gave Muhlbach that moniker to honor the velocity with which he flings a football upside down and between his legs. And, Muhlbach is from Texas, so there’s that, too.

We do not know, however, if Muhlbach has ever given a beatdown to Robin Ventura.

Long snapping is also the kind of job you could ostensibly do into your 40s, so maybe Muhlbach will have the same kind of longevity as the baseball Hall of Famer.

Then again, if you’re a long snapper, the only thing better than a cool nickname is total anonymity — since it means you didn’t screw up.

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Adrian Peterson issues statement

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On Thursday, Judge David Doty overturned the arbitration decision upholding the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  While Peterson is not yet reinstated (and who knows when he will be?), he has been returned to the Commissioner-Exempt list, which allows him to speak to the Vikings.

On Friday, he spoke publicly, via press release.  Here’s the full content of it:

“I was pleased to learn about Judge Doty’s decision.  It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players.  It also brings me one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love.  As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day.  I want to express my gratitude for all of the support I have received from the fans, NFLPA, Jeffrey Kessler, and my agents Ben Dogra, Tracy Lartigue, and Mark Heligman from Relativity Sports.”

Peterson says nothing about whether he does or doesn’t want to return to the Vikings.  Last week, he confirmed that he has some misgivings about returning to Minnesota, which holds his rights for the next three seasons.

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Dockett could indeed return to Cardinals

Dockett AP

The Cardinals released defensive tackle Darnell Dockett on Friday.  That doesn’t mean he won’t be back in Arizona.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the impasse arose because the team and the player couldn’t agree on fair market value for a defensive tackle recovering from a torn ACL.  He was due to make $6.8 million in 2015; the Cardinals thought that was too much, and Dockett thought their best offer wasn’t enough.

So how much is enough?  Dockett will find out on the open market.  And if someone else offers him more than the Cardinals were willing to pay, Dockett can join that team.  If someone else doesn’t, he can take whatever the Cardinals were willing to pay.

Arizona’s offer won’t decrease now that he’s been cut.  Because Dockett was in the final year of his deal, the team assumed no additional cap acceleration by releasing him.

While Dockett is getting a chance to test the market before free agency starts, he may not want to make any final decisions until the process gets rolling.  Ndamukong Suh and other defensive linemen could take whatever market currently exists and spike it even higher.  Likewise, teams that miss out on Suh and other defensive tackles may be willing to pay Dockett more later than they’re willing to pay him now.

 

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With three days left, no tags yet

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The window for using the franchise or transition tags opened 11 days ago.  It closes in three.  So far, not a single player has been tagged.

With time still left to try to negotiate long-term deals before application of the tag, it makes sense to wait those three additional days.  After that, however, time could be on the side of the players who are tagged.

With no further injury risk (other than the day-to-day risk of off-field trauma), players who are tagged can wait until after the market opens to see how much money is spent on other players.  If, for example, the Lions don’t (and they shouldn’t) tag defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, why wouldn’t the other elite, game-changing players who merit application of the tag wait to see what Suh gets before negotiating a long-term deal?

There’s another reason to wait.  Two words:  Sammy Watkins.

Last year, the Bills gave up the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, a first-round pick in 2015, and a fourth-round pick in 2015 to get an unproven receiver.  There’s already talk that one or more teams will at least consider signing a franchise-tagged player to an offer sheet and giving up a pair of first-round picks, especially if this year’s first-round pick falls at the bottom of the round.

Alternatively, a team can wait until after the 2015 draft to sign a franchise-tagged player to an offer sheet.  Then, the compensation if the offer isn’t matched would be first-round picks in 2016 and 2017.

Sure, it would cost a lot more to sign the franchise-tagged player than it costs to sign a first-round pick.  But for teams hoping to win now, the combination of draft picks and cash could merit taking rolling the dice and rolling out the green carpet.

 

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Cardinals release Darnell Dockett

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals were able to reach agreement with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a new contract that lowered his cap hit for the 2015 season significantly and they hoped to do the same with defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Arizona announced Friday that they have released Dockett, who missed the entire 2014 season because of a torn ACL. Dockett had $6.8 million coming his way from the Cardinals before the move and he was set to count $9.8 million against the cap.

Dockett joined the Cardinals as a third-round pick out of Florida State in 2004 and has been a fixture in the starting lineup since his arrival. He made one All-Pro team and was selected to three Pro Bowls while helping to spearhead the Cardinals Defense during his decade in the desert.

Dockett turns 34 in May, but the inability to work out a new deal suggests Dockett likes his chances of landing a better contract than the Cards were offering once on the open market. If he can’t, Darren Urban of the team’s website reports that the Cardinals remain interested in a Dockett return at a lower price tag.

Should Dockett not land a job at all for some reason, he can occupy his time advising the youth of America about the dangers of hanging out in strip clubs.

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Dolphins drop Brandon Gibson

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Mike Wallace is running out of veteran company in the Dolphins wide receiver corps.

Brian Hartline was sent packing on Friday morning and the Dolphins said farewell to another receiver in the afternoon when they announced the release of Brandon Gibson. Gibson was due to make $3.26 million with a cap hit of $4.3 million and the difference will go as dead money on Miami’s 2015 cap.

Gibson signed a three-year deal with Miami before the 2013 season and caught 30 passes in his first seven games with the team before a knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the year. He had 29 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown in 14 games last year as rookie Jarvis Landry passed him in the team’s pecking order.

The team’s been noncommittal about their plans with Wallace, but word out of Miami is that they’d like to either trade him or convince him to take a pay cut. If he does wind up leaving, Landry will be joined by Matt Hazel and Rishard Matthews in a receiving group that will surely be a focus for the Dolphins this offseason.

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Cruz, Newton, Kaepernick part of fruit/vegetable endorsement

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If this is a real thing, it’s certainly better for us than another beer or soda commercial.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz are part of Team FNV, which appears to be a campaign designed to push healthy food choices.

From looking at their website, what we know now is that it’s the product of some slick marketing minds, who know how to package an ad.

Their website has shots of Cruz catching a big apple (I see what they did there), Kaepernick playing with a pineapple, and Newton pushing carrots.

There appear to be numerous other celebrity and athlete endorsers involved as well.

Their website is new and their Twitter feed (@TeamFNV) launched yesterday, so it seems to be in the early stages.

But if they can make my kids eat the colorful stuff on their plates without calling me the worst parent ever, how bad can it be?

Photo credit: Team FNV, via Black and Blue Review.

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Stephen Bowen joins Barry Cofield on discard pile in Washington

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The Redskins signed defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois on Thursday, a move that seems to have made two members of their defensive line expendable.

On Friday, the team confirmed that defensive tackle Barry Cofield has been released and also announced that defensive end Stephen Bowen’s reached the end of his time with the team. Bowen was set to count $8 million against the cap in 2015 and the team gets his $5.5 million in salary and bonuses back to use for other purposes. When you add that to the savings for cutting Cofield, the Redskins gained almost $10 million in cap space.

Bowen signed a five-year deal with the Redskins before the 2011 season and started all 32 regular season games in his first two seasons with the club. Injuries limited him to just 18 games over the last two years, however, and the Jean Francois signing signaled the team’s intention to look elsewhere for help at end in 2015.

The Redskins also announced that they have signed right tackle Tom Compton to a one-year deal. Compton started nine games for Washington last season and was set to become a restricted free agent next month.

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Packers open up Lambeau Field for Favre jersey retirement

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

The Lambeau Field Atrium is not big enough for all the Packers fans who want to cheer on Brett Favre when he has his number retired this summer.

After the 1,600 tickets for the ceremony at the Atrium quickly sold out, the Packers have announced that fans can also sit inside the bowl at the stadium and watch the Favre jersey retirement ceremony on the big screen. Those tickets will cost $4, with proceeds going to Favre’s foundation.

Favre said this month that he was hoping the ceremony would take place in the stadium so that as many fans as possible could see it. That won’t happen — the tickets for the more intimate Atrium event are already sold — but this ensures that tens of thousands of fans can be there at Lambeau for the event.

The ceremony, which takes place on Saturday, July 18, will also be shown on NFL Network and streamed at Packers.com.

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