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Brian Cushing about a week away from jogging

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Getty Images

The news that the NFL’s Competition Committee is looking at the rules governing low blocks on defensive players made us think about Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who was lost for the season due to an ACL tear suffered on just such a block.

Cushing wasn’t talking about that on Tuesday, but he was talking about his rehab and the news continues to be good on that front. Texans owner Bob McNair said a couple of weeks ago that Cushing was ahead of schedule in his recovery and the linebacker said that he’s nearing a milestone in his path back to the field.

“I’m about a week out of jogging right now. Really looking forward to that,” Cushing said, via Nick Scurfield of the team’s website. “It’s been a long, long journey and I still have a lot to go, but it just makes me cherish playing that much more.”

The Texans were decimated at inside linebacker by the end of the season, losing Darryl Sharpton and Tim Dobbins to season-ending injuries that led to Barrett Ruud starting in the playoffs after getting signed to the team in October. McNair complained about the team’s lack of depth at the spot, which raises the question of which teams McNair thinks have high-quality fifth-string linebackers while also making it clear how much better life would be in Houston if Cushing is able to answer the bell for the start of the season.

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Pounceys will file counterclaim in response to “complete sham” lawsuit

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Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey will be fighting fire with fire.  In response to the lawsuit filed against them on Friday, they’ll be exercising their right to sue the persons who have sued them.

“The allegations in the complaint about my clients are completely false,” attorney Jeffrey M. Ostrow tells PFT via email.  “As I previously stated, Mike and Maurkice Pouncey had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in the alleged incident that evening and did nothing wrong.  This claim is a complete sham.  The plaintiffs and their lawyer are perpetuating these lies in a bid for notoriety and financial gain.  We intend to defend this case through trial if necessary and will be filing a counterclaim for malicious prosecution and defamation.”

It’s a strong position to take, especially with the list of accusers tripling from one man who claims he was assaulted to the original alleged victim, a woman who allegedly was punched in the face and knocked out by Maurkice Pouncey when she tried to intervene, and another woman who suffered among other things a leg laceration as a bystander to the melee.

Any available surveillance video will shed light on the truth about what occurred during the Pounceys’ most recent birthday party at Cameo nightclub in Miami.  Ultimately, it’ll all be hashed out in a court of law.

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Kendall Hunter suffers torn ACL

Kendall Hunter AP

The 49ers appear to have lost one of their top reserve running backs for the season.

Fourth-year pro Kendall Hunter has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the team said Saturday morning. The injury seems likely to end Hunter’s campaign, assuming the standard recovery of close to a year for an ACL tear.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Hunter sustained the injury after catching a short pass in Friday’s practice.

With Hunter out for an extended stretch, rookie tailback Carlos Hyde seemingly has a chance to push for a key backup role in his first NFL season. LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore are also in the mix for carries behind starter Frank Gore.

The 25-year-old Hunter racked up 358 yards and three TDs on 78 carries in 2013. Overall, he’s rushed for 1,202 yards and seven TDs in regular season play since entering the NFL in 2011, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt.

This is the second major leg injury Hunter has suffered in less than two years. He sustained a torn Achilles tendon in 2012, but he returned to play all 16 games last year.

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California corruption case entangles unnammed NFL owner

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The list of NFL owners who are receiving the benefit of a double standard when it comes to discipline could be getting longer.

According to the Associated Press, a new indictment against California Senator Leland Yee accuses him of offering him to help pass league-friendly workers’ compensation legislation “in exchange for campaign contributions from an unidentified NFL owner.”

It’s unclear whether the unidentified NFL owner actually offered contributions in exchange for Yee’s support of the bill of whether the unidentified NFL owner was ever approached about the possible quid pro quo arrangement.

Either way, there’s a lot more to this story.  And if the authorities ever believe they can provide that the unidentified owner broke any federal laws, someone may be forking over a $92 million fine to avoid prosecution and the inevitable NFL suspension that goes along with it.

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Andy Reid: Chiefs TE Sean McGrath will retire

Sean McGrath AP

Sean McGrath, who led all Chiefs tight ends in receptions in 2013, has elected to retire, coach Andy Reid said Saturday, according to the Kansas City Star.

The 26-year-old McGrath appeared in all 16 games for Kansas City a season ago, catching 26 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs claimed him on waivers from Seattle on September 1, and he quickly became a contributor in the Kansas City offense, which had injury issues at tight end.

A Eastern Illinois and Henderson State product, McGrath signed with the Seahawks after the 2012 NFL Draft, and he appeared in two games for Seattle as a rookie.

If McGrath’s departure is permanent, the Chiefs will have just four tight ends on the roster: Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, Richard Gordon and Demetrius Harris.

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Percy Harvin’s feeling “immensely good” in Seahawks camp

Percy Harvin, Terrelle Pryor AP

The Seahawks might be missing the engine to their offense at the moment, but they do have another key part back.

While Marshawn Lynch is holding out, they can at least look to the fact they have a healthy Percy Harvin.

A year ago this time, Harvin was going on the PUP list and having hip surgery. Now, he’s healthy and ready to contribute for a full season.

Oh man, it’s immensely good,” Harvin said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “The trainers today were saying last year this time I was in there consulting with a whole bunch of doctors looking through the mirror and hearing all the music and seeing all of the fans and wanting to be out here so bad. So this year, being able to get my foundation back and go through the whole off season with no problems, OTA’s, minicamp, and then to this camp. As long as I keep practicing and building my foundation, I’ll be fine.”

Asked the last time he was fully healthy, Harvin replied: “It’s been a while. But I don’t know if any football player can say they’re fully healthy playing football, but this is the best I’ve felt in a long, long time.”

The Seahawks paid a ransom, in draft picks and cash, to enjoy Harvin for parts of three games. He showed in those cameos that he has game-breaking talent, now they just need him on the field on a more regular basis.

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Packers extend Jordy Nelson

Green Bay Packers Nelson makes a catch next to New York Giants Blackmon helping set up the game winning field goal in the the fourth quarter during their NFL football game in East Rutherford Reuters

Packers receiver Jordy Nelson wanted $10 million per year.  He nearly got it, depending on how his new contract is analyzed.

The Packers have announced that Nelson has signed a contract extension.  Per multiple reports, it’s a four-year deal that will pay him $39 million.  Coupled with his $3.50 million compensation for 2014, he’s now under contract for five years, $42.5 million.  That’s an average of $8.5 million per year.

Nelson, a second-round pick in 2008, signed a team-friendly second contact in 2011, getting $13.35 million over three years.  This time around, the Packers came much closer to breaking the bank.

The deal reportedly includes an $11.5 million signing bonus.  The rest of the details, including key factors like fully guaranteed money, injury-only guarantees, and the annual triggers (if any) for flipping injury guarantees to skill/injury/cap guarantees, aren’t currently known.

The signing of Nelson at the front end of a contract year allows the Packers to focus on whether they can work out a contract for receiver Randall Cobb, who’s entering the final season of his rookie deal.  In March, veteran James Jones left for Oakland via free agency, a year after Greg Jennings jumped to the Vikings.

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Saturday morning one-liners

Kelly Getty Images

Bills QB Jim Kelly, who continues to battle cancer, will take part in the coin flip at the Hall of Fame game.

The Dolphins’ work-in-progress offensive line didn’t make much progress on the first day of work, giving up six sacks in team drills.

Patriots WR Kenbrell Thompkinsimpressive performance on Friday included beating CB Darrelle Revis for a touchdown in 7-on-7 drills.

Jets TE Jace Amaro, primarily a pass-catcher at Texas Tech, says he can block well, too.

Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu made the “catch of camp” so far, a left-handed grab of a pass from QB Andy Dalton.

Ravens CB Lardarius Webb left practice early on Friday with back spasms, but the condition isn’t believed to be serious.

It’s “business as usual” for Browns WR Josh Gordon until the NFL completes the appeal of his one-year suspension.

Steelers S Sharmarko Thomas got a rare invitation to work out with S Troy Polamalu in the offseason; Thomas called the sessions “like a karate movie.”  (Which may or may not mean that Polamalu instructed Shamarko to sand the floor, wax the car, and/or paint the fence.)

Texans DE J.J. Watt says he hit the weights harder to prepare for Romeo Crennel’s two-gap defense, an attack that will make it harder for Watt to get to the quarterback.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano says DE Bjoern Werner has “made a huge jump” from his rookie year to his second season.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt praised QB Zach Mettenberger for not responding after being sucker punched by an Alabama fan.

Broncos LB Von Miller practiced on Friday in socks bearing the image of Tupac Shakur.

Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe had an injury scare on the first play of 7-on-7 drills.

Former CFL WR Dontrelle Inman performed well on Friday for the Chargers after Vincent Brown strained a calf in warmups.

Raiders DE Justin Tuck leads by example, day in and day out.

America’s Team apparently isn’t California’s team; the Cowboys drew a total of 3,503 fans during the first two days of training camp in Oxnard.

Eagles QB Nick Foles disagrees with the notion that he lacks the ego to be a successful NFL quarterback.

Giants CB Prince Amukamara hopes that his newly-developed juggling skills will help him with interceptions, especially since he dropped “four or five easy” picks in 2013.

After being cut in 2005 to make room for free-agent disaster Adam Archuleta, S Ryan Clark is happy to be back in Washington.

Vikings DT Linval Joseph hid a shoulder injury from the Giants in 2013; he says it helped him take his game to the proverbial “next level.”

Bears DT Stephen Paea says DE Jared Allen is “getting after the young guys big time — more than we had with [Julius] Peppers last year.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy says TE Jermichael Finleyis a Green Bay Packer in my opinion.”

Lions RB Reggie Bush says the team’s biggest free-agent signing was at the head coach position.

The Falcons have issued No. 7 for the first time since the Michael Vick era.  (It’s unknown whether Leavenworth has re-issued No. 24601 since Vick was released.)

Panthers C Ryan Kalil says rookie G Trai Turner has stood out among the team’s young offensive linemen.

Saints rookie WR Brandin Cooks already is drawing praise.

Thunderstorms disrupted the first day of training camp for the Buccaneers under Lovie Smith.

Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to play, but he jokes that teammate Larry Fitzgerald will be able to play longer; “He plays wide receiver. Can play that [expletive] as long as you damn want. Jerry Rice played what, 18 years and [expletive]? . . .  Larry can probably be 20 years in the [expletive] league. He never gets hit. He always falls down.  He don’t get tackled.”

Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar isn’t talking about his recent arrest; coach Jeff Fisher says “[i]t appears that it was not what it was presented to be.”

The 49ers’ new-look secondary is looking good so far.

With Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch, Christine Michael says he’s ready to step in.

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Stephen Hill hears heckling from fans, responds to it

Hill AP

Generally, the Jets currently enjoy a strong (and increasingly loud) sense of optimism.  Specifically, the team still has some players about whom there is concern.

Atop the list sits receiver Stephen Hill.  The 43rd overall pick in 2012, taken two spots before Alshon Jeffrey (yes, Jets fans, Alshon Jeffrey), Hill faces a likely up-or-out training camp and preseason in 2014.

Some Jets fans already are casting a vote for out.  Via Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com, a fan at training camp on Friday expressed a sentiment of that sort to Hill.  And Hill responded.

“Take me out of the game?” Hill shouted to the fans behind him as he ran to the field. “You act like I didn’t hear that sh-t.”

Hill is tall and he’s fast and he went to Georgia Tech.  And that’s where the similarities with Calvin Johnson end.

Through 23 games in two seasons, Hill has caught 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns.  The man who drafted Hill, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum, is long gone, and it was clear from the get-go that, like Friday’s heckler, coach Rex Ryan doesn’t belong to the Stephen Hill fan club.

“Well, nothing told me he would [contribute],” Ryan said in 2012. “Nothing. When I saw the tape [of his collegiate play] I was concerned. But Mike Tannenbaum and [senior personnel executive] Terry Bradway and all our scouts were adamant about this guy. They were adamant that this guy can do it. He can run all these routes, he had good hands and he’s got 4.2 speed at 6-foot-5. He was the guy they all wanted, but honestly, when it came down to it, a wideout? Not my dream pick. But now that we have him, of course, I want to claim him: ‘Oh, that was my pick.’ But it really wasn’t.”

Through two years, Hill has proven Ryan right.  Which could mean that Ryan will finally get his wish.

But even if Hill has joined Tannenbaum as a former Jets employee before the season starts, Ryan will be reminded of the decision to take Hill over Jeffrey when the Bears come to MetLife Stadium for a Week Three Monday night game.

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Jaworski would take Foles over Wilson and it’s “not even close”

Jaws Getty Images

At a time when the jury seems to be out on whether Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will perform at the same level he did in 2013, a former Eagles quarterback is ready to entering a verdict, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Recently appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, Jaworski was asked whether he’d want Foles or Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who like Foles entered the NFL via round three of the 2012 draft.

“I’m taking Foles,” Jaworski said.  “Not even close.  Russell Wilson is just . . . because of that system he is in.  Russell Wilson plays with that defense, the best in football.  He just managed the game very well.  I think Russell Wilson has played terrific, a great maturity, but I’m going to take Nick Foles.”

While Jaworski is entitled to his opinions (and ESPN is entitled to milk three days or programming out of each of them), this one seems a little kooky.

As to Foles, it’s possible his success can be attributed in part to working with Andy Reid ad a rookie and Chip Kelly in 2013.  Also, since Mike Vick was the starter entering the 2013 season, defenses didn’t have tape on Foles, giving him an advantage during his truncated first tour through an NFL schedule.

As to Wilson, he’s hardly a game manager.  By all accounts, he’s a dynamic and driven young leader who has done a lot more for the Seahawks than hand off the ball and throw safe, first-read passes.  Wilson threw for more yards in 2013 than Colin Kaepernick, who helped ESPN create several days of news churn last year when Jaws declared Kaepernick could become one of the best to ever play the position.  Also, Wilson’s passer rating exceeded 100.  (Kaepernick’s didn’t.)

More importantly, Wilson wins.  Yes, it’s a cliché and it’s not very insightful and it draws a fine from producer Matt Casey if it’s uttered on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk when we return from hiatus on Monday.  But the game is about winning, and Wilson has shown from the outset of his career that he can and does.

Wilson also has shown that he can continue to perform at a high level even after opposing defenses have had seven months to break down everything he did in his first season of action.  Foles will have to do the same thing in 2014 before there’s even a fair debate as to whether he’s in the same conversation as Russell Wilson.

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49ers worry about Kendall Hunter’s leg injury

Hunter Getty Images

It suddenly could be easier for the 49ers to divvy up tailback carries, but that’s a very thin silver lining in the dark cloud currently hovering over contract-year backup Kendall Hunter.

Hunter, a largely forgotten 49ers favorite amid the arrivals of Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde in the last two drafts, suffered a leg injury during practice on Friday.  The specific nature and extent of the injury isn’t known, but Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the team is “concerned.”

Per Werder, Hunter went down awkwardly in a non-contact session.  The team “didn’t like the way it looked,” and now time and testing will test whether Hunter will be gone for a little while or a long time.

Lattimore remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which means that Hyde could get plenty of opportunities to show that he can do what Hunter does, which includes a 4.6-yards-per-carry average and a thorough and complete understanding of the team’s pass protections and his role in them.

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Report: “Impassioned plea” from Rice’s wife influenced Goodell

Rice AP

No one knows what the wife of Ray Rice said to the Commissioner when she accompanied the Ravens running back to New York for his personal-conduct policy session.  Whatever it was, it apparently helped Rice get a lesser penalty than most believe he deserved.

According to Jonathan Lehman of the New York Post, Janay Palmer Rice made an “impassioned plea” to Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Her words, whatever they were, reportedly were “instrumental” in the decision to suspend Ray only two games.

What she said isn’t known, and possibly will never be known (unless they have another press conference with no questions from the press).  Peter King of TheMMQB.com has reported that Mrs. Rice “urged” Goodell to “not ruin Rice’s image and career” with the punishment.  She also presumably apologized for her role in the incident that culminated in Rice knocking her out, given that she expressed that same sentiment during that press-conference-without-questions-from-the-press.

It’s all meaningless without seeing the video of the incident.  While troubling footage of Rice dragging his fiancée-turned-wife out of an elevator quickly emerged after the February incident, the video of the punch has been zealously concealed.  Our marginally-educated speculation is that the video shows aggression by Janay that could make the likes of Stephen A. Smith sympathize with the ultimate knockout blow, but that the video nevertheless is far more disturbing than what we’ve already seen, given that it ultimately shows Rice delivering an uppercut to a female and rendering her unconscious.

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Kraft wants L.A. team within 2-3 years

Kraft AP

When it comes to talking about putting franchises in London or Los Angeles, the league routinely creates a sense of urgency that, when it comes to acting on it, doesn’t seem to actually exist.

Appearing Friday on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that a return to L.A. “within the next two to three years . . . would be in everybody’s best interest.”

The problem continues to be finding a stadium solution that is in the best interests of the NFL and the local interest that would be involved in building a stadium and buying all or part of a relocated team.  For years, it’s been believed that the NFL won’t make a deal to return to the NFL unless it’s the right deal, which the ongoing lack of a deal to return to L.A. would seem to confirm.

“We’ve gone a generation — almost 20 years — without a team in L.A.,” Kraft said, via SportsBusiness Daily.  “We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded and tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for, and I think it’s very important.”

Kraft, who said he’d like to see two teams return to Los Angeles, hinted at one point about ESPN eventually televising a Monday Night Football game “from downtown L.A.,” a reference to the dormant-if-not-dead AEG proposal to build a stadium near Staples Center.  Whether an idle comment or deliberate, finding a location for a stadium continues to be one of the biggest challenges.

“It’s complicated, because L.A. is a [big] market, the weather is great, you have so many choices,” Kraft said.  “So we need to make sure we have ownership that’s passionate about the game, really feel that the franchise is one of the most important things in their life.  Then we’ve got to get the right venue.  Having the right venue is so critical because I don’t think we’ll get fans in the L.A. market to come if it’s not really special.”

Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times recently reported that the right venue could be a venue built and owned by the NFL.  Whatever the solution, there continues to be plenty of talk about returning to Los Angeles and expanding to London, but no action.

That doesn’t mean quick action isn’t possible, especially with the two teams that left L.A. in 1995 — the Raiders and the Rams — now operating on year-to-year leases.

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Cam Newton: I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet

camnewton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is healthy enough to practice at training camp. But he’s not healthy enough to do all of the things we’re accustomed to seeing from him on the football field.

“I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet,” said Newton, who had ankle surgery in March. “It’s just going to take treatment and time.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera echoed those comments, saying he’s glad Newton is practicing but realizes Newton’s ankle isn’t allowing him to do everything.

”It was good to see Cam out there,” Rivera said. ”He’s a little rusty in terms of his quarterback to running back exchange. But he’s working himself back in and he has to work those techniques. But it was nice to see him make some nice throws. . . . A big thing is developing that footwork and getting that flexibility back in that ankle. As he practices and goes through day by day we have to be smart with it. I think he will work back into shape pretty soon.”

Newton’s ankle had been bothering him for years, and the goal of the surgery is to make the ankle better in the long run. He’s not there yet, but he should be in good shape when the season starts in six weeks.

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Manziel says he’s “on the same page” with Browns, admits “rookie mistakes”

Johnny Manziel AP

As he begins his first NFL training camp after an offseason filled with chatter about his off-field habits, Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel admitted Friday he has made some “rookie mistakes” early in his pro career.

However, the Browns’ first-round pick also made it clear he doesn’t see a problem having a good time once in a while.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me going out and having a nightlife and having a social life,” Manziel said at a press conference. “I mean, I am 21 years old, and I do like going out.

“It was the offseason. It’s free time for us, and if I want to go out and hang out with my friends or go to nightclubs or do things like that, then I think that’s within my rights to being doing that, and I think there’s other guys throughout the league that are going that. And I’m not trying to compare myself to anybody else, but I think that’s within my rights to be doing that.”

While not specifically addressing what he considered to be missteps, Manziel noted he had communicated with coach Mike Pettine and G.M. Ray Farmer and that all was well entering camp.

“Me and Coach Pettine and Ray Farmer have really talked about a lot of things that have transpired over the course of the offseason, and for me, my main thing is, people within this building, my teammates, coaching staff, the higher-ups in this organization, we’ve all been on the same page, we’ve all been good, and very eager to be moving forward,” Manziel said.

Of his “rookie mistakes,” Manziel said: “There’s some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently, but (I’m) continuing to move forward and try to represent this organization and this team in a positive manner and in a positive light.”

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner added he was “just very excited to be back in camp, when it’s football 24-7. That’s what I love doing, that’s what I live for, and it’s what my job is.”

As to be expected, Manziel was asked early in his press conference about the controversial photo of him appearing to roll a dollar bill.

“I’ve talked about that with Coach Pettine,” Manziel said. “I’ve talked about it with Ray Farmer and the people that I need to talk about that with. And moving forward, they’re good with everything, and I’ve told them everything that I need to, and everything’s been good.”

Manziel’s remarks came on the same day that the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported some in the Browns’ organization were “alarmed” by a few of the rookie quarterback’s off-field actions in the offseason.

The Browns’ first training camp practice is Saturday.

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Doug Baldwin, Pete Carroll have different views on contracts

dougbaldwin AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin do not agree about the holdout of running back Marshawn Lynch.

Carroll says Lynch needs to get to camp because Lynch signed a contract and needs to honor it. But shortly after Carroll made those comments, Baldwin took to Twitter and said he hates hearing from NFL teams about how players have to honor their contracts, because teams routinely cut players who have years left on their contracts.

“I hate the ‘but you signed the contract’ argument,” Baldwin wrote. “Players can’t say that s–t when organizations cut them.”

Baldwin’s view is a common one among NFL players, who often complain that their contracts don’t have the same guarantees of their colleagues in professional baseball and basketball. Lynch’s holdout may not be exposing a rift within the Super Bowl champions’ locker room, but it is at the very least demonstrating that players and coaches often have very different views about what it means to live up to a contract.

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