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Michael Johnson optimistic he’ll work out a deal with the Bengals

Max Starks, Michael Johnson AP

Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson had the best season of his career at the right time: Johnson’s 11.5-sack year in 2012 came in the fourth and final season of the rookie contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2009. So now Johnson is one of the best pass rushers hitting free agency, and he’s ready to cash in.

But he hopes to cash in by staying in Cincinnati. Johnson said on NFL AM that the Bengals are a franchise heading in the right direction, and he wants to be a part of keeping the Bengals going in the right direction.

“Everything will work itself out and I’ll be in the best situation — hopefully that’s in Cincinnati,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a good thing going. We’ve got to continue to improve, make some more strides and make even more noise. We’ve done a little bit but there’s a lot more left to do. We’ve got a great group of young guys and I’m a part of that, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of that for many years to come.”

Johnson said he’d prefer to get a long-term deal and doesn’t want the Bengals to put the franchise tag on him, but he knows that isn’t his choice. One way or the other, the Bengals have plenty of cap space, and it seems unlikely that they’ll let a good young player get away.

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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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Three Chargers offensive linemen battling injury issues

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 13: Dee Ford #55 of the Kansas City Chiefs fights through the block of Joe Barksdale #72 of the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game on December 13, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers left tackle King Dunlap missed practice again Thursday due to migraine headaches, and right tackle Joe Barksdale was again limited due to a foot injury.

The Chargers had a new addition to Thursday’s injury and participation report. Starting left guard Orlando Franklin did not practice Thursday due to a back issue.

With three starters in question three days from Sunday’s game vs. the Saints, the Chargers have some worries but the team has experienced backup offensive linemen in Kenny Wiggins and Chris Hairston.

Defensive end Joey Bosa, who’s still trying to get healthy enough to make his NFL debut, was again listed as limited with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Brandon Flowers missed a second straight day of practice due to a concussion.

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Dez Bryant gets good news from Dr. Andrews

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on before a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant ducked an MRI in part because he didn’t want bad news. On Thursday, he apparently has gotten good news.

On Twitter, Bryant tweeted that he received “great feedback” from Dr. James Andrews. Bryant also described himself as “day to day.”

That’s great news, given that Bryant reportedly will miss up to three weeks with a hairline fracture in his knee. Of course, this doesn’t mean Bryant will be ready to go when the Cowboys play at San Francisco on Sunday.

Earlier on Thursday, coach Jason Garrett explained that Bryant feared that he had a serious knee injury, which caused him to avoid the diagnostic procedure that would have confirmed its existence.

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No MRI yet for Eric Decker

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 27:  Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets passes the ball to Eric Decker #87 prior to the start of a preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 27, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images) Getty Images

Maybe the Jets don’t have an MRI machine at their facility, either.

In the same week that an MRI on the knee of Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was delayed in part by the fact that the swanky new digs in Frisco, Texas lack the fairly significant bones-and-ligament-and-cartilage diagnostic machinery, Jets receiver Eric Decker still hasn’t had an MRI on his injured shoulder.

On Wednesday, coach Todd Bowles said Decker “probably” will get an MRI. On Thursday, Bowles said that an MRI hasn’t happened, yet.

“He could be [getting an MRI],” Bowles said. “They’re still discussing it.”

Asked if there’s a reason for the delay in the administration of the MRI, Bowles said, “Not to my knowledge, no. . . . I’m not going in and demanding that he have an MRI. I’m sure they have their reasons and that isn’t my call.”

Asked if there’s a concern that Decker’s injury could last more than a week, Bowles said, “It’s a concern. Hopefully it’s not, but if it is, we’re getting other guys ready to play. I’ll see where he is [Friday] before I can make a decision on how serious or not serious it is.”

Decker injured the shoulder in Week Two against the Bills. He aggravated it on Sunday, in a loss to the Chiefs.

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NFL makes Randy Gregory’s 10-game suspension official

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 13:   Randy Gregory #94 of the Dallas Cowboys on the sidelines before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on August 13, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

We’ve known for more than a week that Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory dropped his appeal of a 10-game suspension, but there was never a formal announcement from the league that the suspension has been put in place.

That announcement came on Thursday. The league confirmed that Gregory will be suspended through the team’s December 18 game against the Buccaneers as the suspension does not go into effect until after this weekend’s game against the 49ers because Gregory is still serving a four-game ban.

Gregory played 12 games as a rookie before his substance-abuse violations led to the two suspensions and owner Jerry Jones was asked if he feels the second-round pick they used to select Gregory was a wasted one.

“I really don’t want to hindsight those,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan, via the Dallas Morning News. “If you look at the amount of play time we got out of a second-round pick, then I would say that it’s not been good. Ultimately, if we can have him on the field, which is rightfully the question … then it would be an outstanding pick.”

Gregory’s unlikely to change any minds on that front in two weeks at the end of this year after missing training camp and the preseason while at a treatment facility, which means that discussion can move into 2017 if the Cowboys decide to keep Gregory on hand.

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Steelers activate Le’Veon Bell

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on October 1, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers officially activated running back Le’Veon Bell Thursday, releasing running back Daryl Richardson to create a roster spot.

Bell was suspended for the first three games and was allowed to return to the team earlier this week. Richardson had played in all three games this season.

Bell scored three rushing touchdowns in six games last year. He was first-team All-Pro in 2014, when he ran for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns and also had 854 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The Steelers host the Chiefs Sunday night.

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Dolphins promote Jamil Douglas from practice squad

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 13: Offensive guard Jamil Douglas #75 of the Miami Dolphinshigh high fives fans after a game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 13, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins head into Thursday night’s game with several injuries on their offensive line so they’ve called up a healthy lineman from their practice squad.

The team announced that they have promoted guard Jamil Douglas to the active roster in time for their matchup with the Bengals. Douglas was a fourth-round pick last year and made six starts while appearing in all 16 games.

Miami ruled out center Mike Pouncey for the fourth straight game with a hip injury and his replacement Anthony Steen is unlikely to play on Thursday night after being listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. Left tackle Branden Albert is questionable with an ankle injury and right guard Jermon Bushrod drew the same designation due to a wrist injury.

The Dolphins have 12 other players on their injury report as they try to even their record at 2-2 on Thursday night.

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Technically, Anthony Davis didn’t “retire”

San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

49ers offensive lineman Anthony Davis has become the NFL’s most recent Brett Favre, with two annual retirements, and counting. But there won’t be a second unretirement in 2016.

Officially, the 49ers didn’t place Davis on the reserve/retired list. He’s on the exempt/left squad list.

This implies: (1) that Davis left the team; (2) that he received the so-called “five-day” letter explaining that, if he doesn’t return, he’ll be placed on the “left squad” list; and (3) that he didn’t return.

The difference is significant. If Davis were on the reserve/retired list, he could unretire at any time. Placement on the “left squad” list could me that he can’t play for the 49ers or anyone else in 2016.

Meanwhile, Davis will be required to return another chunk of bonus money to the 49ers. He previously paid back the 2015 allocation following his first retirement. He’ll now have to surrender the corresponding portion of his 2016 allocation for the games that he missed.

It still remains unclear why Davis is not longer with the team.

“I did not talk to Anthony,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly told reporters on Thursday. “He came in and talked to [49ers General Manager] Trent [Baalke]. I did not see him. Trent came down and told me what transpired and then Anthony was gone, but I did not talk to him.”

So what did Davis tell Baalke?

“Trent said that it was because of injuries,” Kelly said. “That’s all I know. But it’s probably a good question for Trent. For me to talk specifically about a conversation someone had with someone else, that’s not, I don’t know exactly what transpired. I was just told that’s what was going on and then really the next step for us was what are we doing with the roster spot and all those other things. I’ve reached out to Anthony and gave him a call just to talk to him, but I didn’t connect with him yet.”

Davis had tried to agitate for his release in April, possibly because the 49ers weren’t willing to reimburse the bonus money that he’d refunded in 2015. Eventually, Davis decided to return without being cut and without getting his bonus allocation back. Now that he’s gone again, he’ll lose even more money.

The question now becomes whether Davis will return again in 2017, and whether the 49ers will continue to squat on his rights.

UPDATE 4;11 p.m. ET: The 49ers inform PFT that they placed Davis on the exempt/left squad list in order to clear a roster spot, that he’s in the five-day window, and that if he doesn’t return he’ll go on the reserve/left squad list. At that point, he won’t be eligible to play for the 49ers or anyone else this year.

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Nevin Lawson: NFL told Lions 66-yard pass interference was incorrect call

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Donte Moncrief #10 of the Indianapolis Colts cathes a pass while being guarded by Nevin Lawson #24 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) Getty Images

According to ESPN, Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson picked up the longest penalty in at least 15 years last Sunday when he was flagged for a pass interference penalty that gave the Packers a 66-yard gain on the first play of the second quarter.

The Packers scored a touchdown on the next play to take a 21-3 lead on their way to a 34-27 victory. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after the game that he didn’t think Lawson interfered with Packers wideout Trevor Davis on the play and Lawson said Thursday that the NFL told the Lions that it was an incorrect call. Lawson said one of the team’s coaches told him about the league’s response.

“It’s definitely frustrating because you get that call wrong,” Lawson said, via ESPN.com. “The worst part about it is that it affected that drive, and we gave up a touchdown, you know what I’m saying? So we can’t get that back. So the only thing we get is an apology, so it’s frustrating. But like I said, we got to continue to play and move on.”

It’s the second year in a row that has seen the Lions take issue with a call in a game against the Packers. They were upset by a facemask penalty on defensive lineman Devin Taylor last year that allowed the Packers an untimed down that ended with Aaron Rodgers completing a Hail Mary to win the game. That game was officiated by a crew headed by referee Carl Cheffers, as was last Sunday’s game.

Lawson said that he’d like to see pass interference calls be subject to replay review, something that others have brought up over the years but has gotten little traction with the competition committee.

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DeAndre Hopkins not frustrated by Texans offense

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 18:  DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans breaks the tackle attempt by Phillip Gaines #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler said Wednesday that nothing has changed for the team’s offense because of the loss of defensive end J.J. Watt to another back injury and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins agrees with that assessment.

Hopkins said that the offense is “going to go out there and do what we do” regardless of the situation on the other side of the ball. That hasn’t always been a good thing this season, however.

The Texans were shutout their last time out of the gate and they’re scoring 14 points a game overall while the passing game ranks 27th with 214.7 yards per game. That’s down from last season as are Hopkins’ individual numbers, but the wideout says that’s  not a cause for frustration.

“No, it’s not frustrating at all,” Hopkins said, via the Houston Chronicle. “The team’s success, for me, comes first and all the accolades come after that. So, whatever I have to do, if it’s me drawing a double team, that means one of my other teammates are open. That’s not on the stat book, drawing a double team — people just see touchdowns — but, to me, my team’s success comes first.”

The Texans came into this season with hopes that their offense would carry more weight than it did last season. Whether it is going through Hopkins or someone else, there’s still work to do to realize that hope.

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Colts distinctly remember the last time they played the Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:   Nick Marshall #41 and Johnathan Cyprien #37 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrate an interception return during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The good news for the Colts may be that they’re playing the Jaguars in London this weekend.

Because the last time they saw them in Florida, the Jaguars gave them an embarrassing 51-16 beating.

The Jaguars poured it on that day, converting a fourth-and-goal from the 1 inside the two-minute warning as their fans chanted “We want 50!”

Think I forgot?” Colts safety Mike Adams said, via Mike Wells of ESPN.com. “I’m not sugar coating anything. Fifty! Fifty! We talked about that. It is what it is. It’s the NFL. . . .

“We were in the position to set ourselves up in the division. That’s what makes it hard. Obviously that game, I didn’t even watch all of it. Just a little bit to recap.”

That was the game that ended a 16-game AFC South winning streak for the Colts, and part of a two-game stretch in which they lost by 35 points.

Of course, there are plenty of differences since then, specifically the return of quarterback Andrew Luck, who has five straight wins over the Jaguars.

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Terrelle Pryor thinks the Browns can go 13-3

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Terrelle Pryor #11 of the Cleveland Browns warms up prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Browns 29-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

Terrelle Pryor has emerged as one of the few bright spots on the Browns this season, becoming their No. 1 receiver while also taking some snaps at quarterback. And now we know something else about Pryor: His optimism is boundless.

Pryor said this week that despite the Browns’ 0-3 start, he thinks they’re a good enough team to win every remaining game and finish 13-3.

“We’re so close to getting over that hump,” Pryor said. “Once we get over that hump, I think we’re going to have a lot of success, even this year. . . . I think we can win all the rest of the games. It depends on our mindset. It depends on how we look at it. It’s just one week at a time.”

Is that realistic? No. Is it understandable that Pryor has that mindset? Yes. His confidence in himself has paid off, even if his confidence in his team may be just a bit too high.

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Elvis Dumervil says he’s playing Sunday

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 13: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks works under pressure from outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil #58 of the Baltimore Ravens while tight end Luke Willson #82 of the Seattle Seahawks blocks in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil returned to practice last week, but sat out Friday’s session and remained inactive for Baltimore’s 19-17 victory over the Jaguars.

It looks like his surgically-repaired foot is ready to take the final step, however. Teammate Terrell Suggs said Wednesday that he expects to have Dumervil in the lineup against the Raiders this Sunday and Thursday brought the word straight from Dumervil’s mouth.

Dumervil told reporters that he’ll make his 2016 debut this weekend.

“I’m excited to get in front of our fans,” Dumervil said, via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com.

Albert McClellan has been starting in place of Dumervil over the first three weeks and Za’Darius Smith has also played a significant number of snaps. Dumervil should be back in his usual spot with the first team, but working him back in will likely leave time for the others to continue seeing the field.

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Why is TV viewership down?

56627504 Getty Images

Fewer people are watching the NFL on TV, and no one really knows why.

The NFL Players Association admits that the trend is an obvious concern. The league has kept quiet, likely fearful that talking about the situation would lend credence to the dynamic, possibly causing other fans who are still watching the games to say, “Maybe I should stop, too.”

The decline has become a mystery, for the media and surely for the NFL. The league’s failure to discipline more aggressively players who have engaged in off-field misconduct possibly has turned off some fans. A perception that the league reacts too heavy-handedly in other matters (like #DeflateGate and the Saints bounty scandal) could cause others to think the NFL hopes to steer certain teams toward success and to make it harder for others to succeed.

These two dynamics have contributed to an intense sense of disdain by plenty of fans for Commissioner Roger Goodell. It’s odd, however, to think that fans are choosing not to watch the NFL on TV because they don’t care for the man whose name appears on the football. (That said, it’s likely no accident that Goodell largely stays out of view.)

The disconnect between the images televised across the country in high definition and the things seen by the naked eye in real time by seven officials interspersed with young, strong, large, fast men in armor remains a far bigger problem than the league office ever would admit. The NFL seems to have a general reluctance to fully embrace technology in order to get the calls right. At some point, however, the league must take more seriously the impact of fan frustrations arising from the sense that what everyone else sees is missed by the small group of people whose vantage point is the most important.

The ongoing desire to expand the NFL’s reach to other countries likely alienates some fans as well, given the potential belief that the league is taking the domestic audience for granted as it tries to spread the pro football virus around the globe. The mere mention of, for example, an international franchise or a Super Bowl played beyond borders of the U.S. sparks a strong negative reaction from plenty of fans.

Meanwhile, viewing habits have changed, dramatically. The younger generation no longer congregates around a large box; they carry small ones everywhere they go, constantly staring at them like zombies peering in to a sardine can full of brains. Many members of Generation Z don’t feel compelled to take the time to witness the flow of a game, the shifts in momentum, the nuances that set the stage for game-changing moments in the fourth quarter. They just want the highlights and the stats, so that they can see how their favorite team and, perhaps more importantly, their fantasy team performed.

Speaking of fantasy football, consider the perspective of kids who were born after the rise of what once was a collateral consideration to traditional rooting interests. With the pieces of a fantasy team spread over various NFL franchises, plenty of fans may not have the same zeal about one specific team, with the us-against-the-world mindset inherent to pre-fantasy fans fully undermined by the reality that, for example, an ardent Panthers fan may have Saints quarterback Drew Brees on his fantasy team.

Some would say the election is a factor, but if anything the political consternation should be causing people to more fervently embrace their diversions. Apart from the conflicts between prime-time games and two of the presidential debates, fans should be regarding NFL games as an escape from the political nonsense.

The quality of the early-season matchups could be an issue, due in large part to a lesser number of star players on great teams. Peyton Manning has retired, Tom Brady is suspended (his team nevertheless had two of its first three games televised nationally), and some of the best quarterbacks remain largely unknown and/or unaccomplished.

The concussion crisis, and the reality that football has become the pin cushion for criticism even though plenty of sports and other activities entail a risk of head injuries, likely has caused some fans to feel guilty about watching or enjoying football. In turn, the league’s efforts to make the game safer probably has influenced others who want big hits and who don’t care about the physical consequences to lose interest.

Some are suggesting that the anthem protests are causing fans to boycott the NFL, but it’s hard to see a connection between the objections to the behavior of a small group of players and the decision of significant numbers of fans to deprive themselves of something they enjoy. The NFL has made its position on the anthem clear, and the vast majority of players continue to stand at attention.

Even with the decline, nothing brings a live audience together like the NFL (except for The Walking Dead). But it’s clear the NFL has reason to worry, and that it has work to do. A more aggressive and creating marketing push could be needed, along with a willingness to consider significant changes to the rules and the officiating procedures.

Whatever the reasons, and there surely are many, the NFL has billions of reasons to figure them out — and to begin the process of addressing the problem. Publicly ignoring the issue is fine. If they’re privately paying no attention to it, the league will be in or a rude awakening when the time comes to negotiate the next set of TV deals.

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