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Obama concerned about brain injuries in football

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President Obama has weighed in on the subject of brain injuries in football, saying that as a parent, he’s not sure he’d allow a son to play.

“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” Obama said in an interview with the New Republic. “And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

The NFL has taken most of the public criticism for head injuries, but Obama said his greater concern is for amateur players who aren’t getting paid and may not have as full an appreciation of the risks.

“I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,” Obama said. “You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.”

The NFL has stayed a step ahead of the NCAA, both in enforcing rules designed to limit hits to the head and in treating players who suffer concussions. But fans of football at every level should be prepared for more political pressure on the sport to dramatically reduce hits to the head.

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Fitzgerald still optimistic he’ll play

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Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a Grade 2 sprain of the MCL.  That will make it difficult for Fitzgerald, who played on Sunday after suffering the injury, to suit up and play at Seattle in three days.

According to John Weinfuss of ESPN.com, Fitzgerald remains “optimistic” that he’ll be able to play.  Fitzgerald also said that the knee is feeling better as the week unfolds.

On Wednesday, coach Bruce Arians described Fitzgerald as “iffy” for the NFC West showdown with the Seahawks.  A more formal label will be applied to Fitzgerald in Friday’s injury report.

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Bills add TE MarQueis Gray on waivers

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On a day in which the NFL announced Sunday’s Bills-Jets game would not be played at Ralph Wilson Stadium because of heavy snow, the Bills still went about the business of tweaking their roster.

According to the league’s transactions, the Bills were awarded tight end MarQueis Gray on waivers from Minnesota on Thursday.

A collegiate quarterback at the University of Minnesota, the 25-year-old Gray has played tight end in the pros, appearing in 12 games with the Browns in 2013 and eight games with the Vikings this season. The addition of Gray (6-4, 242) gives the Bills four tight ends on the roster.

To make room for Gray, the Bills waived backup tailback Phillip Tanner.

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DeSean explains his recent social media message

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On Monday, Washington receiver DeSean Jackson posted the following message on social media:  “You can’t do epic sh-t with basic people.”

He has explained it by saying, essentially, “if the sh-t fits . . . .”

“Whoever feels like it’s directed at him, that’s who it’s directed at,” Jackson said Thursday, via Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com.

Jackson opted not to elaborate.

“I’m not talking about last week, I’m not here to talk about last week,” Jackson said.  “It’s a new week, we’ve got a new team to play and that’s who the focus is on.  Whoever thought I was talking to them, they can take it how it was taken.”

So, basically, it’s still not clear who is precisely keeping Jackson from doing “epic sh-t.”  On Sunday, chances are it will be one or more members of the San Francisco defense.

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Mark Davis: Reggie McKenzie has gotten us in “really good shape” to build

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The Raiders make their 11th bid for their first victory of 2014 against the Chiefs on Thursday night with an interim head coach and a 16-game losing streak that had led to plenty of speculation about the future of General Manager Reggie McKenzie.

Raiders owner Mark Davis didn’t make any concrete statements about what the future will hold for McKenzie during a conversation with Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, though he did have plenty of complimentary things to say about the job that McKenzie has done over the last three years. Those things haven’t been reflected in the team’s record, of course, but  Davis focused on the way McKenzie got the team out from under a dreadful salary cap situation.

“We are in really good shape, based on the way Reggie put all the contracts together and everything else,” Davis said. “We’re not settled with a lot of upside-down situations anymore. The situation he walked into originally was pretty tough. The deconstruction phase of that went very, very well. I think we’re a pretty desirable place for someone that wants to come in and build.”

Davis also pointed to the additions of quarterback Derek Carr and linebaker Khalil Mack as pieces that leave the Raiders “in position to start moving forward.” He feels that will appeal to someone, presumably a permanent head coach, “that might want to be a part of bringing the Raiders back to greatness.”

When Dennis Allen was fired, McKenzie said he would be the person to hire that coach. Davis’s comments make it look like he’s got a good chance of being correct, which may turn out to be better news for him than those looking for Hue Jackson’s return to Oakland.

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Bills and Jets won’t play in Buffalo Sunday

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The league has now confirmed what anyone with two eyes (and/or a snow shovel) realized.

They’re not playing football in Buffalo Sunday.

League spokesman Michael Signora has confirmed that they’re not playing the Jets-Bills game in Buffalo Sunday, and are looking for a place to play it.

As we’ve pointed out, that’s most likely to be Detroit.  But at least now we know where it’s not going to be.

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So why didn’t the NFLPA reduce Goodell’s power in 2011?

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A common theme has emerged in recent days regarding the suspension imposed by the NFL on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  And it goes a little something like this:  “The NFLPA has no room to complain because the NFLPA gave the Commissioner the power to do whatever he wants.”

While it’s true that the NFLPA gave the Commissioner the power to determine discipline under the personal conduct policy and in turn to resolve the appeal, those powers must be exercised properly and responsibly.  Failure to do so arguably has contributed to the current problems the NFL faces as a result of the Peterson case and, more importantly, the Ray Rice case.

It’s also important to consider the broader context.  In 2007, the late Gene Upshaw agreed to give the Commissioner broad authority to discipline players for off-field misconduct.  The league unveiled the revamped policy in connection with the suspensions of Adam Jones and the late Chris Henry.

In 2011, the NFL and NFLPA returned to the bargaining table for the negotiation of a new labor deal.  The primary struggle at that point related to money.  While the quality of the financial package remains the subject of periodic debate, the NFLPA also achieved unprecedented limitations on offseason workouts, training camp practices, and in-season practices.

If (and that could be a big if) the Commissioner would have traded his power over the personal conduct policy for the practice limitations, should the NFLPA have done that?  Doesn’t it make far more sense to achieve protections that directly benefit all players in lieu of protections that, as a practical matter, will help only a few?

Sure, all players are subject to the arbitrary application of the personal conduct policy, where the rules are whatever the rules have to be in order to reach the predetermined outcome.  But only two or three players find themselves caught in the gears of the personal conduct policy every year.  Every player experiences the impact of reduced practice time and less intense practice sessions.

The next time the NFL and NFLPA try to hammer out a new labor deal, that same question will emerge.  How much of the protections for the many will be sacrificed to ultimately protect a few?

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Falcons sign James Anderson

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The Falcons placed running back Antone Smith on injured reserve earlier this week, but they didn’t fill his roster spot with another running back.

They announced Thursday that they have signed linebacker James Anderson, who was a member of the Titans until earlier this week. Anderson had five tackles in seven games for Tennessee before they parted ways with him.

Anderson started 16 games for the Bears last year and spent the summer with the Patriots before being a somewhat surprising cut as the Pats pared down their roster in August. Anderson spent the first seven years of his career with the Panthers, who made him a third-round pick in 2006.

Assuming Anderson sticks on the roster, he’ll get a chance to square off against his former team in Week 17 in a game that could wind up determining the winner of a rather unspired race for the NFC South division crown.

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Matt Tobin returns to practice, may not return to starting lineup

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On Wednesday, it looked like the Eagles might have to make a change to their starting offensive line because of right guard Matt Tobin’s concussion.

Tobin was cleared to return to practice on Thursday, but it looks like change may be coming to the Philly line anyway.

Tobin, who has been filling in for Todd Herremans was lost for the season with an arm injury, said, via Reuben Frank of CSN Philly, that Andrew Gardner took all of the reps at right guard with the first team during Thursday’s session. Gardner has seen time at both tackles and right guard this season as the Eagles have shuffled people around to fill in for the four presumed starters that have missed time at various points this season.

The resulting lack of continuity hasn’t helped the offense and may be part of the reason why LeSean McCoy’s production has slipped despite his belief that he’s the same player that he was in 2014.

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Washington, Pittsburgh aren’t options for Jets-Bills

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Earlier today, PFT reported that the three primary alternative locations for the game between the Jets and Bills are Detroit, Toronto, and New Jersey.

ESPN also has identified a trio of venues, but with only one common place:  Detroit.  Per ESPN, the other choices are Pittsburgh and Washington.

A league source tells PFT that Washington and Pittsburgh are not options.  And that makes plenty of sense; both fields consist of grass, and both grass fields have in the past demonstrated problems with behaving like, you know, grass.

While both seem to be better (or at least not as bad) as in the past, it makes no sense to play an extra game on a grass field when the extra game can be played on FieldTurf at Ford Field.

For other reasons, Detroit is the best choice of any of the available options.  And it won’t be a surprise if, come Friday, the announcement is made that the game will be played in Detroit.

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Raiders fans buy newspaper ad calling for return of Hue Jackson

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The Raiders aren’t getting much else done, but at least they’re sparking the local economy.

Via CSNBayArea.com, a group of Raiders fans bought a quarter page ad in the Oakland Tribune, asking for the team to bring back Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as the team’s next head coach.

“Ever since our Super Bowl loss in 2002, our beloved Raiders organization has been having unsuccessful, losing seasons,” the ad read. “In 2010, we hired Coach Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, who came in to work alongside then Head Coach Tom Cable. He aided the franchise to bounce back from a 4-12 record to an 8-8 record. Hue Jackson was promoted to Head Coach. Our players were motivated and wanted to play for Coach Jackson, and there was a huge shift in culture within the Raiders locker room. That season, our team went 8-8, just missing the playoffs. This success was in spite of the 132-day NFL lockout, losing our starting quarterback Jason Campbell to injury, and then losing our running back Darren McFadden. In addtion, our legendary, trendsetting, trailblazing owner, Al Davis passed away. Mark Davis assumed ownership while grieving his loss and it was Hue Jackson’s loyalty to the franchise that saw him take on more responsibilities.

“Despite the firing of Coach Allen, our record as of print is 0-10 and 0-16 over two seasons! Our team was in a better position with Coach Hue Jackson. Raiders Nation let your voice be heard; hire Hue Jackson in 2015!”

While a group of disgruntled fans buying ads (or airplane banners, or billboards) might not create fundamental change, it at least shows a degree of passion for a team that has done everything possible to kill it.

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Justin Blackmon pleads no contest to pot charge

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When last we heard about suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon, he was in a voluntary treatment program as he tries to tackle the substance abuse issues that have forced him to miss more than a year’s worth of game while seeing out an indefinite ban from the league.

Blackmon was in a courtroom in Oklahoma Thursday to deal with a marijuana possession charge. Blackmon was arrested in July when police officers found three grams of marijuana in Blackmon’s car after stopping him for a traffic violation.

Blackmon pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge, which the Oklahoman reports will be dropped to a count of disorderly conduct if he doesn’t commit any crimes in the next six months. He also told the judge that he had completed his rehab program.

“I don’t anticipate [Blackmon] will have any problems,” Blackmon’s attorney Robert Gray said. “He’s going back to training and hopefully looks forward to reinstatement.”

Blackmon could be reinstated for the 2015 season and the Jaguars maintain the rights to their former first-round draft pick.

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Peterson appeal focuses on change in policy

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On Tuesday, the NFL suspended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  On Wednesday, the NFLPA appealed the suspension on his behalf.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA raises two primary arguments in support of the appeal.  First, the union argues that the NFL has applied a different standard to conduct that occurred before the NFL revised the domestic violence and sexual assault policy on August 28.  Attorneys call that ex post facto lawmaking, Latin for “after the fact.”

Second, the NFLPA describes the punishment of Peterson as “wildly disparate” in comparison to past punishments imposed on other players.  The union points to the six-game suspension imposed Tuesday and the nine games missed while on paid leave.

The union also has asked that Commissioner Roger Goodell recuse himself as the appeal officer in the case, pointing to alleged partiality and bias.  Specifically, the NFLPA contends that the criticism that has been directed to Goodell and the NFL in recent months regarding the handling of off-field misconduct makes it impossible for him to be properly objective and unbiased.

The letter initiating the appeal also includes a lengthy summary of the facts, which includes a contention that executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent told both Peterson and his agent (presumably Ben Dogra) that “the time Mr. Peterson agreed not to be on the football field would be considered ‘time served’ if and when the NFL assessed discipline against Mr. Peterson.”  This expands the potential dispute over what Vincent did or didn’t say from one-against-one to two-against-one.

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Karlos Dansby is loading up on mashed potatoes — and lobster

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While the rest of us will be loading up on turkey for the next week, Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby has a different meal in mind.

Dansby, who doesn’t seem likely to make it this week because of a sprained MCL, has a unique way of eating while he’s rehabbing.

According to Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dansby was singing the praises of of eating lobster and mashed potatoes.

I’m feeding like a vampire drinking blood,” Dansby said. “I’ve got to feed it. For a vampire to bounce back, he’s got to get his blood and I’ve got to keep getting the lobster mash in my body right now. I’m eating a lot, man.”

Whatever the healing properties of lobster and mashed potatoes might be, Dansby might be on the cutting edge of medical and culinary technology.
If he’s able to get back for Sunday’s game at Atlanta, however, the Browns will doubtless be serving it up to all their injured players.
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Justin Pugh misses second day of practice

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Geoff Schwartz may be making his Giants debut at right tackle.

Justin Pugh, the Giants’ usual starter at the position, missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday with a quad injury that forced him out of last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. Coach Tom Coughlin said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, that the team has two or three options to fill in for Pugh against the Cowboys on Sunday night and they were looking at them in practice.

Schwartz was originally signed to play guard, but he’s one of those options after missing the first 10 games of the season with a toe injury. Charles Brown replaced Pugh last weekend and is presumably another one of those options, although Coughlin quite accurately said that Brown did not play well when asked about Brown’s rough outing against the Niners.

Vacchiano reports that James Brewer is the third option and that Schwartz would likely replace John Jerry at right guard if he doesn’t get the call to replace Pugh.

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Soldier Field: Problem with clocks has been rectified

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During last Sunday’s Bears-Vikings game, the game clocks at Soldier Field malfunctioned during the Vikings’ final drive and officials kept the official time on the field.

After his team lost, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was upset about the problem and the Bears said technicians weren’t yet sure what went wrong. The Bears play at home again this Sunday against Tampa and the team says that the problem has been rectified.

Soldier Field spokesman Luca Serra said a team from Daktronics, the scoreboard manufacturer, was on site this week working to correct the problem. Serra didn’t specify the problem, but says the company assured the issue has been rectified.

“That was a first,” Serra said, via the Chicago Tribune, “and we’d like to say a last. But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”

The company ran game simulations with the scoreboards on both Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the repair process, but offered no word on whether the Bears were able to extend their winning streak in those virtual contests.

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