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Gonzalez could have other suitors, in theory

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

With Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff believing there’s a 50-50 chance tight end Tony Gonzalez will play notwithstanding his 95-percent certainty of retirement, there’s another angle that needs to be considered.

Gonzalez will be a free agent on March 12.  He could, if he wants, continue his career with any team.

That’s never happened for Gonzalez during his 16-year NFL career.  He was traded to the Falcons at his request in 2009, but he’s never had the chance to go wherever he wants to go.

And he had 93 catches in 2012, ninth most in the entire league.

Don’t be shocked, then, if other teams opt to try to entice Gonzalez to continue his Hall of Fame career as a member of their teams.

Gonzalez has said or done nothing to indicate he’d play elsewhere, but if he’s going to play for the Falcons in 2013, he’ll need a contract.  And if other teams are interested, the Falcons could become willing to pay more to get Gonzalez back.

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Bill O’Brien: Expect more of J.J. Watt at tight end

J.J. Watt AP

J.J. Watt has done just about everything there is to do as a defensive end for the Texans, so he expanded his portfolio against Oakland last weekend.

Watt played a couple of snaps at tight end during the 30-14 victory and caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Watt said Wednesday, via Art Stapleton of the North Jersey Record, that he was “most definitely” ready for more if the coaches want to give it to him.

Coach Bill O’Brien is willing to do that or at least make others think he’s willing to do that. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports that O’Brien said we should expect to see more of Watt at tight end in a future that starts with this week’s game against the Giants.

Watt has a pretty good shoulder to lean on when it comes to moonlighting on offense. Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel caught 10 regular season passes for 10 touchdowns while he was a linebacker for the Patriots and Chiefs. Vrabel added two more in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX that helped the Patriots hold off the Panthers and Eagles and added up to a nice little side business.

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Panthers announce Greg Hardy takes “voluntary leave”

Greg Hardy AP

For the second time today, a high-profile NFL player facing legal trouble has been banished from his team.

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will, like Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, go on the commissioner’s exempt list until is legal case has run its course. Hardy is awaiting a jury trial on a domestic violence charge.

“The Panthers have announced that DE Greg Hardy will take a voluntary leave of absence from team,” a brief statement from the team read.

Presumably Hardy agreed to the voluntary leave because the Panthers told him if he didn’t, they’d give him an involuntary leave. Hardy, who will continue to be paid his salary of about $770,000 a week, released a statement saying he accepts the decision.

“I understand that I need to step away from football right now and take care of this legal matter,” Hardy said in a statement. “I am entitled to due process and my day in court, and that’s where my focus should be.”

Although Hardy was convicted by a judge, the Panthers initially said they would allow him to seek a jury trial, as is his right in North Carolina, before taking any action. However, after harsh criticism following their decision to play him in Week One, the Panthers deactivated Hardy for Week Two. Now he’s done for the foreseeable future.

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Colin Kaepernick will appeal $11,025 fine for language

Colin Kaepernick AP

There seems to be some dispute about what 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did or did not say to Bears defensive end LaMarr Houston.

Now he’ll get a chance to take it up with the league office on appeal.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Kaepernick was fined $11,025 for “inappropriate language” Sunday night, but said he would fight the penalty.

Houston said he didn’t hear anything, but one of the officials must have, as it was flagged on the spot.

He was the first player to be penalized for what he said on the field, so as test cases go, this could be an important one. The league emphasized to players this offseason that officials would be listening, though there is no list of bad words that are automatic flags.

(We should point out that we have offered our services to the league in codifying offensive language, since we consider ourselves experts.)

While the league has bigger fish to fry at the moment, getting this one right will be important, and Kaepernick’s appeal will be interesting to follow.

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Roddy White questionable, Jake Matthews probable for Falcons

Roddy White AP

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Tuesday that wide receiver Roddy White didn’t need to practice in order to play against the Buccaneers on Thursday night, so you wouldn’t expect the fact that White spent another day on the sideline on Wednesday to have much bearing on how he’s listed on the team’s injury report for their game.

It didn’t. White is listed as questionable, which means that the Falcons will make a final call about whether or not White can go on a balky hamstring. Based on Smith’s comments, the best guess would be that White is in the lineup. How close to 100 percent he’ll be after also tweaking his knee in the opener is another question, however.

The Falcons have more certainty when it comes to left tackle Jake Matthews. He missed last week with an ankle injury, but he’s practiced this week and got a probable tag from the team. That should mean he’s back in the starting lineup with Gabe Carimi going back to his third tackle role or spelling Lamar Holmes on the right side.

Wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) and linebacker Prince Shembo (knee) are also listed as probable for Atlanta.

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New substance-abuse policy may help LaVon Brazill, not Darryl Washington or Justin Blackmon

LaVon Brazill AP

It’s already known that Browns receiver Josh Gordon will have his suspension reduced from a year to 10 games under the new substance-abuse policy.  It’s not known whether other players will receive any type of relief once the new substance-abuse policy is implemented.

Per a league source, the new policy is likely to reduce the suspension imposed on former Colts receiver LaVon Brazill (pictured), who was cut by the Colts and headed to the CFL.  The new policy won’t help Cardinals linebacker Darryl Washington, who has been suspended for a year, or Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon, who was suspended for a large chunk of the 2013 season and who has not yet been reinstated.

Only the new PED policy has been announced.  The new substance-abuse policy is expected to be announced soon.

The new PED policy resulted in the lifting of ony three player suspensions — Broncos receiver Wes Welker, Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick, and Rams receiver Stedman Bailey.

 

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Vontaze Burfict diagnosed with another concussion

Vontaze Burfict, Paul Guenther AP

The Bengals were unsure whether or not linebacker Vontaze Burfict would be able to play in Week Two after suffering a concussion against the Ravens in the season opener.

Burfict was able to get clearance through the league’s concussion protocol and took the field against the Falcons, only to see his day come to an early end with what the team called a stinger at the time. Burfict missed practice on Wednesday, but he wasn’t listed as having a stinger.

Burfict is listed as suffering from another concussion. Geoff Hobson of the team’s website reports that Burfict began having concussion symptoms after being diagnosed with the stinger and he’ll now reenter the protocol before he can be cleared to practice or play in a game. After a second concussion in such a short amount of time, Burfict may need to wait a bit longer before the green light comes this time.

Wide receiver A.J. Green, who hurt his foot in the Falcons game, also didn’t practice, but said he’ll try to give it a go on Thursday. Guard Kevin Zeitler was in a boot after injuring his calf and Hobson believes he’s doubtful to be on the field against the Titans this week.

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Joe Flacco Has a Cold

Joe Flacco AP

A starting quarterback who’s never missed a regular season game has missed his team’s first practice of the week.

Ravens starter Joe Flacco didn’t participate in the club’s workout on Wednesday, according to the team’s official Twitter feed. The Ravens (1-1) play at Cleveland on Sunday.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not elaborate on Flacco’s absence, the club said.

However, it appears that Flacco may just be a little under the weather. According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Flacco has a cold. Also, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com reported that “word is” Flacco isn’t feeling well.

This sounds like a story right in Gay Talese’s wheelhouse.

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Scandrick and Spencer at practice in Dallas, Romo out

tonyromo AP

There was good news for the Cowboys’ defense and bad news for the offense at practice today.

Dallas got back cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who was on the field thanks to the NFL ending his suspension. Although Scandrick had been suspended for the first four games of the season under the old drug-testing policy, when the league and the players formally agreed to a new drug policy today, one of the byproducts was that Scandrick’s suspension was reduced to time served. Scandrick is back and from all accounts ready to go.

Also back, though perhaps not ready to go, is defensive end Anthony Spencer. Today was Spencer’s first time on the practice field since microfracture surgery a year ago, which is a positive step in his recovery. But Spencer isn’t ready to go through a full practice just yet, which probably means it’s going to be a while longer before he’s ready to play in a game.

Tony Romo, whose 2013 season was cut short because of back surgery, had to miss practice today to rest his back.

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was at practice but not doing much as he continues to rest the shoulder he injured on Sunday. Bryant returned to Sunday’s game after the injury and is expected to play this week, but the Cowboys are taking it easy on him on the practice field.

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Gloria Allred blasts NFL for handling of Brandon Marshall case

Brandon Marshall AP

Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred started the press conference ripping into the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, with charges that he ignored complaints filed regarding Brandon Marshall.

Allred appeared with Kristeena Spivey, who accused the now-Bears wide receiver of abusing her friend Rasheedah Watley.

Marshall denied ever abusing Watley in 2009, but Spivey recalled an incident when Marshall rammed into her car, and threw a chunk of cement at a window to try to get Watley out.

Spivey said she called and emailed Roger Goodell, but never heard back from him. Marshall was suspended three games, but that was reduced to one.

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Rusty Hardin: No plea discussions in Adrian Peterson case at this point

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Adrian Peterson is on the exempt list until his legal proceedings have reached their conclusion and his lawyer said Tuesday that there’s no quick resolution in the works.

Rochelle Olson of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Rusty Hardin said that there have been no plea discussions with prosecutors regarding the charges of reckless or negligent injury to a charges that Peterson faces in Texas. Hardin said that he still expects there to be a trial next year.

Hardin also released a statement.

“Adrian wants to continue his work in the NFL and contribute to his team and community,” the statement reads. “In order to do so, he is prepared to resolve this matter in the appropriate legal forum rather than the court of public opinion. I have spent my entire career asking people to wait until all the facts are in, and I’m doing so again today. Ultimately, it will be up to a judge and jury to decide this case, which is the way it should be. Ours is the greatest legal system in the world, and Adrian is confident that a just result will emerge once all the facts are presented.”

There’s a lot of time between now and next year for talks about a plea to pick up and Hardin would be showing too much of his hand to say that he’s looking to plead out as soon as possible, but there may be motivation to come to a quicker resolution with Peterson’s return to the NFL contingent on the case coming to an end.

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DeSean Jackson doesn’t practice, but doesn’t plan on missing date with Eagles

DeSean Jackson AP

The Redskins are going to Philadelphia on Sunday, a trip that’s been circled on wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s calendar since the day the schedule was announced.

It’s Jackson’s first chance to play against the team that released him in the spring and he didn’t make any attempt to downplay the importance of the game on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a huge game for myself and I’ve looked forward to ever since everything went down the way it went down,” Jackson said, via the Washington Post.

Complicating matters for Jackson is a shoulder injury suffered in last Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars. Jackson wasn’t a participant in practice on Wednesday and coach Jay Gruden wasn’t ruling him in or out, but Jackson sounded confident that he’d get the green light medically in time to face his former team.

“I’m a very confident person, regardless of an injury and I pride myself on not missing any games and prepare myself any and every way I can to help my team. So when it comes time for game, I’m going to do everything I can to get myself prepared and ready. Being cleared through my trainers is more of ‘we’re waiting’ more than anything. But I should be good come Sunday.”

Assuming he’s right, Jackson’s return to Philly in a different uniform will be one of the top storylines in Week Three.

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Greg Hardy hasn’t agreed to paid suspension, yet

Hardy Getty Images

When it comes to players accused of domestic violence whose cases are still pending, the NFL has discovered plutonium by accident.

Either way, the emerging trend is to suspend the player with pay, via the little-known Exemption/Commissioner’s Permission designation.  It’s catch-all that allows a team to park a player on the sidelines for an indefinite period of time.  And it’s the modern equivalent of the Bucs and Eagles sending Keyshawn Johnson and Terrell Owens, respectively, home with pay.

Because the labor deal no longer allows guys to be sent home with pay, the player has to agree to this approach.  In the case of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the player agreed.  In the case of Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the player hasn’t, yet.

While there’s a good chance he will, keep in mind that Hardy faces evidence that is less clear than the charges pending against Peterson, who essentially admits spanking his son to the point of broken skin.  Hardy, found guilty via a preliminary trial so informal that the state doesn’t even generate a transcript of the proceedings, still has a chance to go to court and to pull out a win before a jury, especially since the standard for a criminal conviction is so high.

Apart from the fact that Hardy may be exonerated is the reality that he’s due to become a free agent in 2015.  If he’s not playing, it becomes harder for Hardy to position himself for a major payday in free agency.  And if he’s ultimately acquitted, that major payday could still come.

Regardless of Hardy’s circumstances, this seat-of-the-pants procedure gives the NFL too easy of a way out of the maze the league has created by caring about what players do when not at work.  Instead of suspending the player with pay before his case ends and then presumably suspending him without pay after he is found legally responsible, the league should mobilize an NTSB-style team of investigators to explore the circumstances and make a quick decision as to whether the player is or isn’t guilty.

If the NFL believes he’s clean, he plays.  If the NFL thinks he did something wrong, he receives punishment.  Either way, the cloud of uncertainty won’t linger over the player, his team, and the league.

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Report: Goodell wants to “be a leader in the domestic violence space”

Roger Goodell AP

So far, we’ve heard more from Zygi Wilf and Jerry Richardson and Steve Bisciotti than we’ve heard from Roger Goodell.

There are indications that could be changing, soon.

A source close to Goodell told Peter King of TheMMQB that “Roger has determined that he will be a leader in the domestic-violence space.”

Any time he wants to start would likely be relief to those in Minnesota and Carolina and Baltimore, and around the league where the off-field abuse allegations against stars has overshadowed the start of the season.

And that fact that King’s article is titled “It’s Past Time, Commissioner” should tell you which way the winds are blowing.

Goodell has hired four women in the last week, one to head his Washington office and three to help him drive the league’s new programs surrounding domestic violence.

But while putting out fires by placing players on the equivalent of double secret probation, we haven’t heard from Goodell since a pair of handpicked interviews with female journalists (neither of whom operate within the NFL sphere) last week.

You’d think that would change sometime soon.

But until it does, the sounds of silence coming from 345 Park Avenue are deafening.

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Doug Martin, Gerald McCoy questionable for Thursday night

Gerald McCoy AP

Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy broke his hand last Sunday and hasn’t practiced at all this week, but the Bucs aren’t ruling him out of Thursday night’s game against the Falcons.

McCoy has been listed as questionable on the team’s Wednesday injury report, which should mean he has a 50/50 chance of being on the field. Coach Lovie Smith said, via the team, that McCoy has been feeling better since being fitted for a cast, but no decision will be made until Thursday about his status. If he can’t play, Akeem Spence, Clinton McDonald and Da’Quan Bowers will be the options inside for the Bucs.

Running back Doug Martin missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury, but he’s been practicing this week and also drew a questionable tag for the NFC South matchup. The same goes for defensive end Michael Johnson, who was held out of the loss to the Rams because of an ankle injury.

The Bucs ruled out linebacker Mason Foster and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

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Jay Gruden: When McCoy comes out and Sproles comes in, we’re like “Oh s—“

Jay Gruden AP

Eagles running back Darren Sproles had a monster game against the Colts on Monday night, displaying exactly the kind of playmaking ability that he showed in New Orleans and San Diego before being traded to the Eagles for a fifth-round pick during the offseason.

That ability makes Sproles’ impact on the Eagles offense has hard to miss and Redskins coach Jay Gruden has picked up on it while preparing for this weekend’s NFC East clash between the two teams. As Gruden explains, there’s no longer a reason to catch your breath when LeSean McCoy is on the sideline.

“You’d think when McCoy comes out of the game we’re high-fiving, you know, ‘Hey, he’s on the bench, thank god.’ All of a sudden Sproles come in and we’re like, ‘Oh, s—,'” Gruden said, via CSNPhilly.com. “They’re two dynamic players when the ball is in their hands out in space. Our job is to know where they are at all times. We’ve got to do a great job of not just tackling one guy but gang-tackling and everybody running to the ball.”

Sproles has actually produced more yards and touchdowns in the first two games than McCoy, something that few people probably predicted heading into the season. It’s unlikely that things will remain that way over the long haul, but that’s all the more reason for defenses to be at their sharpest when facing off with the Eagles this season.

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