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Sean Smith, on a secure line, says no tampering

New England Patriots' Welker can't keep a handle on an incomplete pass against Miami Dolphins' Smith during their NFL football game in Foxborough Reuters

In the words of Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly.

Not long after we mentioned Vontae Davis’s perhaps-accidental, perhaps-hacked declaration that Dolphins free agent cornerback Sean Smith was talking to the Chiefs well in advance of the league’s sanctioned tampering period, Smith himself has taken to a longer form of the medium to defend the sanctity of the process.

After an initial “Whoa! No I didn’t,” Smith expounded in a way that makes perfect sense.

Ok this is getting out of hand,” Smith began, on a message that went way over 140 characters. “I’ve never talked to any other team besides the Miami Dolphins. Yes I talked to vontae and I told him Al Harris (our former coach) got the job up in KC and that I talked to him a few days ago to tell him congrats. That’s it! Now why he interpreted that as “talking to KC” idk but there is NOTHING going on! This is ridiculous”

He also tried to take poor Davis off the hook, saying: “Lol He panicked, tried to help… not the best idea but I appreciate it.”

Smith presents a reasonable and realistic version of events, that I’m perfectly willing to accept — more than Davis’s claim that hackers got to him.

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Gruden said Friday that RG3 was cleared, would play if he felt ready

Jay Gruden AP

Hours before the team announced on Friday that a doctor was keeping Robert Griffin III out of Saturday’s preseason game with a concussion, Washington coach Jay Gruden said that Griffin had been given final medical clearance from multiple doctors, and that the big remaining question was whether Griffin himself felt ready.

“He’s cleared from all the doctors, the neurologists — they’ve been cleared. We still want to talk to the player and make sure he’s ready to go mentally and our trainers make sure they feel like he’s ready to go also. Being cleared from the doctor doesn’t mean the player feels 100 percent so we’ve got to make sure he feels ready to go, too,” Gruden said on NFL Network, in an interview taped at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Only a few hours later, the team said a doctor had checked Griffin and declared him unable to play. So what happened? The team hasn’t offered a full explanation. Given that Gruden said the remaining issue was whether Griffin “feels ready to go,” the most likely answer would seem to be that Griffin told the doctor he had a headache or some other symptom associated with a concussion, and as a result the doctor said Griffin couldn’t go.

Gruden’s comments put Griffin in a tough position. Fair or not, when a coach says a player will play if he feels ready, and then that player doesn’t play, there’s a perception that it’s the player’s fault for not being willing to tough it out and get on the field.

The doctor’s Friday evening statement suggested that Griffin could still need a week or two to recover. Of course, at this point we can’t trust anything we hear about Griffin’s status.

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Tottenham soccer star Harry Kane says he’d like to play in the NFL

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

Harry Kane, a star for the English soccer team Tottenham Hotspur, says he’d like to give kicking an American football a try some day.

“It depends on how my football career goes but, when I am finished, I would love to go the NFL and be a kicker. Even if I got to play just one game it is something I would like to do. It’s a long way off yet. But it is definitely something I have thought about,” Kane told The Sun.

Kane says he has kicked a football with NFL kickers and has as strong a leg as they do, although he admits he would need to work on his consistency with an oblong ball.

“We’ve had NFL teams come to Spurs and I can kick the ball as high and as far as them, but not on a consistent basis so I would need a bit of practice first,” Kane said.

Players from other sports — notably Australian football and rugby — have made a successful transition to the NFL, with 49ers running back and return man Jarryd Hayne the most recent example. But there’s a fundamental difference: Australian football and rugby players have a financial incentive to play in the NFL because they can make more money in America. Top European soccer stars make more money than NFL kickers, so if the 22-year-old Kane continues to be a successful soccer player across the pond, he would be losing money by trying football. And if he tried kicking in the NFL only after he’s past his prime in soccer, he would probably be past the age when he’d be able to make a move to the NFL.

Realistically, Kane won’t become an NFL kicker. But the mere fact that he’s talking about will be taken as a success by the NFL, which is trying hard to establish popularity in England. A popular English athlete talking up the NFL is music to the ears of the league office.

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Chris Johnson gets $400,000 guaranteed

Chris Johnson AP

Running back Chris Johnson may not have been promised anything by the Cardinals. But he has received a pretty significant guarantee.

PFT has confirmed that $400,000 of Johnson’s $870,000 base salary is fully guaranteed, for skill, injury, and salary cap.

It means that, even if the Cardinals cut Johnson, he still gets the $400,000.

Prior reports have indicated that Johnson can make up to $2 million, with his salary shooting up another $1.13 million if he rushes for 1,300 yards. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, NFLPA records don’t include that term, but that’s not entirely uncommon.

As Kent Somers of azcentral sports recently noted, only one running back in franchise history has rushed for 1,300 or more yards — Ottis Anderson with 1,356 in 1980 and 1,376 in 1981.

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Browns remain patient with Terrelle Pryor

Terrelle Pryor AP

Roster cuts are coming very soon, with every team dropping from 90 to 75 on Tuesday and then to 53 by the weekend. For the Browns, those cuts will include a decision on receiver Terrelle Pryor, who has potential but who has been unable to develop it due to a hamstring injury.

How much potential? Browns cornerback Joe Haden perhaps put it best.

“I just can’t wait for him to go out there because he looks like Calvin Johnson, so if he goes out there and plays half like him he’d be solid,” Haden said recently, via Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com.

The possibility that Pryor eventually could be very good could help him get a roster spot even if he’s not one of the best 53 players on the team right now.

“[H]is skillset, could he be?” coach Mike Pettine said of Pryor, via Grossi. “It’s hard to say, especially with the rules nowadays, even if he had stayed healthy and gotten every single snap, to go from a quarterback who has never played wideout a snap, to go through an NFL training camp when we have other players to get ready as well.

“To announce that, ‘Hey, the project is complete. He can do this,’ I think that would’ve been unrealistic. It is a projection and the projection is we have less information to make that projection based on how training camp went for him.”

The problem is that training camp hasn’t really gone at all for Pryor, due to a hamstring injury. But that may still get him a roster spot, since Pettine admits that the bar is low.

“We know he’s a project. We understand that,” Pettine said. “We’re not expecting him to go out there and light it up and catch 10 balls for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Just continue to get better.

“At the beginning, to just make that decision and come into a training camp and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to switch my position,’ our expectations weren’t real high for him by the end of training camp to be a viable player at wideout. We understand it’s a process. It’s just been unfortunate with the injury, the setbacks, that we haven’t been able to get as good of an evaluation as we wanted.”

It all sounds like Pryor will be getting a roster spot, based on his potential and not on his performance. Which is smart, given his enormous athletic talents.

But given that guys like Pat Devlin and Josh Johnson are still getting quarterback jobs, and in light of the reality that Jason Campbell’s phone is ringing, it’s hard not to wonder whether someone would be interested in Pryor as a quarterback, if the Browns would decide that he doesn’t deserve a roster spot as a receiver.

Actually, given the total quality of the Cleveland depth chart at the quarterback position (after all, they just signed Devlin), Pryor’s ability to serve as an emergency quarterback should make the Browns even more inclined to keep him around.

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Alex Smith looks good, Andy Reid says the Chiefs’ offense is rolling

Avery Williamson, Ropati Pitoitua, Alex Smith AP

The Chiefs went the entire 2014 season without a single wide receiver catching a touchdown pass. This year, things will be different.

That’s what Chiefs coach Andy Reid thinks after seeing his first-string offense get extended work in the third preseason game. Alex Smith completed 16 of 18 passes for 171 yards, and No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin caught seven of the eight passes thrown to him, for 65 yards and — yes– a touchdown.

“One of the things we needed to get better at was to get the offense rolling,’’ Reid said. “We did kind of more of what we do.”

Maclin, who arrived as a free agent from Philadelphia this offseason and is the Chiefs’ No. 1 receiver, said Smith is running the offense just the way the Chiefs need.

“We have everything we need to do the things we want to achieve this year,” Maclin said. “It all starts with the guy under center and we have all the faith in the world in him.”

The Chiefs beat the Titans 34-10, but that’s meaningless. What matters is that the Chiefs’ offense looks like it has more weapons than it had a year ago. That long streak of games without a touchdown pass to a wide receiver will end soon.

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Brees walks home after practice at Tulane Stadium

Brees

Prior to Super Bowl XLVIII, former Broncos safety Mike Adams vowed to walk 12 miles from MetLife Stadium to his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey in full pads if Denver won the game. Adams ultimately didn’t get the chance to do it.

On Friday, Saints quarterback Drew Brees sort of did what Adams had planned to do.

Following a night practice at the football stadium on Tulane’s campus, Brees signed autographs roughly an hour after the team buses left. So when he was done, he grabbed his pads and walked home.

It wasn’t a 12-mile hike, but the distance of approximately two miles is far enough after football practice.

Brees posted a photo of the journey on Twitter, as a group of young Saints fans walked with him.

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Concussion timeline creates some doubt about RG3 in the opener

Robert Griffin III AP

At this stage, assuming there’s anything logical or normal about the Washington quarterback situation would be a mistake.

But with every passing day, it gets stranger and stranger.

Tonight’s statement from an independent neurologist that Robert Griffin III wasn’t actually cleared to play because of the thing that he wouldn’t acknowledge as a concussion, was weird enough on its own merits.

But as pointed out by Rich Tandler of CSNMidAtlantic.com, the one- to two-week period mentioned by the doctor today could easily put the regular season opener in jeopardy.

Two weeks from today would be two days before the start of the regular season, and you’d think coach Jay Gruden would like his starter to work with the ones all week (they need the work).

But while Gruden has gone out of his way to not create a quarterback controversy, circumstances have absolutely created one.

If Kirk Cousins (or, heck, why not Colt McCoy) plays well in the rest of the preseason and takes all the work the week before the opener, it’s easy to justify starting him instead of an RG3 who may or may not be physically able, or prepared to go.

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Break up the Jaguars: Blake Bortles looking impressive in preseason

Blake Bortles AP

Much in the same way we should probably not overreact to Tom Brady’s preseason struggles, maybe we should temper our expectations of those who are doing well.

Otherwise, you’d be inclined to think the Jaguars might be good at football this year.

As noted by Mark Long of the Associated Press, the Jaguars first offense has looked exceedingly competent, scoring on seven of eight preseason possessions.

Blake Bortles has led a pair of impressive touchdown drives against the Lions tonight, and has looked remarkably settled in the process.

The Jaguars might still be a year away from having the kind of personnel around him to make them a contender, but they’re definitely making progress, and that’s something they haven’t enjoyed in Jacksonville in some time.

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Tom Brady isn’t really looking like Tom Brady this preseason

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots Getty Images

If he hadn’t won four Super Bowls and a couple of MVPs, you’d almost think Tom Brady was distracted by something.

The Patriots quarterback has looked a bit shaky this preseason, and has already thrown two interceptions against the Panthers.

Again, it’s far from time to worry about what this means for the regular season, regardless how many games he plays because of his #DeflateGate suspension.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact he’s looked rather un-Tom-like so far.

In his first two games, four of his five drives were three-and-outs, while completing just 3-of-9 passes. If it’s possible, he’s been even worse tonight, throwing a pair of picks to a Panthers defense which is good but missing a number of key pieces.

It feels mandatory to say this is not a time to panic. It’s still Tom Brady. But it’s also reasonable to wonder whether the time he’s spent defending himself this offseason has caused him to not be singularly focused on the game, such that he ever has to be during the preseason.

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Jonathan Kraft: We never apologized to Chris Mortensen

Jonathan Kraft AP

Maybe 11 of the 12 calls were apologies.

Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft said during an interview tonight on 98.5 The Sports Hub that while he’s not mad at Chris Mortensen, that he never apologized to the ESPN star reporter though Mortensen said he did.

“I think that throughout the whole situation that transpired, a lot of respected reporters have received information that was false and really could have only been leaked by the league,” Kraft said during the team’s pregame show. “And in the ordinary course we’ve talked to some of those reporters and we told them that we don’t blame them for the misinformation. We blame their sources for using them.”

While Mortensen said earlier this week the Kraft and his father had apologized, the son made it clear that didn’t happen. But rather than banging on Mortensen himself, Kraft reiterated their anger was with the league for not correcting the erroneous reports that 11 of the 12 balls used in the AFC Championship Game were significantly deflated.

“Still, it hasn’t been corrected publicly. I think when the Wells report came out, some of those details were made public,” Kraft said. “We’ve still never gotten an explanation from the league why the erroneous reports weren’t corrected. And I think the sources for the misinformation are the only ones who should be apologizing to the reporters. We haven’t, and we really have no need to.”

So while Mortensen’s version of the apology may not square with Kraft’s version of events, the salient point remains that Mort should not be the focus of this situation — the league officials who fed him the bad information should be.

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Robert Griffin III not cleared to play after all

Robert Griffin III AP

Amid questions about whether Robert Griffin III really suffered a concussion last week comes word tonight that not only is Washington saying Griffin did suffer a concussion, but that he still hasn’t been cleared to play in this week’s preseason game.

In a statement issued by the team on Friday night and attributed to NFL independent neurologist Robert N. Kurtzke, it was revealed that Griffin can’t play yet.

“Per discussion with Neuropsychologists and with Anthony Casolaro M.D., we had anticipated yesterday that the patient would be cleared for full participation in gameplay this weekend; however, upon further scrutiny today of the neuropsychology data, I agree with the neuropsychologist that he should be held from gameplay this weekend and be retested in one-two weeks before a firm conclusion to return to gameplay can be made,” the statement said.

So now Griffin won’t play this week. And despite coach Jay Gruden’s claims that Griffin is the starter, it raises the question of whether Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy could do enough in the third preseason game to take the starting job away from Griffin. The Washington quarterback saga is far from over.

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NFL suspends R.J. Dill for taking testosterone while not in the NFL

Dallas Cowboys v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

NFL players remain subject to the league’s strict performance-enhancing drug-testing policy even after they think their careers have ended, as a little-known player named R.J. Dill has found out the hard way.

Dill, an offensive lineman with the Cowboys who was suspended for the first four games of this season, said in a statement today that the banned substance he took — prescription testosterone — was something he needed for medical reasons, and he only took it after he failed to make a roster last year and thought his career was over. That doesn’t matter to the NFL. Testosterone is banned by the NFL except when a player gets an exemption for extraordinary circumstances (such as a player whose body stopped producing testosterone because he lost his testicles to cancer), and so when Dill returned to the NFL and tested positive for testosterone, he was suspended.

“I saw my doctor, and blood tests revealed that my testosterone levels were very low,” Dill said. “My doctor suggested that I undergo testosterone replacement therapy, and I accepted the recommended treatment. I completed one round of testosterone replacement therapy in November of 2014, and almost immediately, I felt like my old self again. At this time I was not under contract with any NFL team, nor was I actively pursuing an NFL career.

“Then, in January of 2015, I unexpectedly received a call from the Dallas Cowboys. They were interested in signing me to a futures contract, and after passing a physical, I signed a contract and immersed myself in training for the 2015 NFL season. Unfortunately, my excitement was subdued when in May 2015 I was told by the NFL that I had failed a drug test. While my doctor had told me that the residual amounts of the testosterone would be out of my system about eight weeks after treatment, that was not accurate, and I failed a drug test a full six months after I had received the prescribed treatment.”

Dill attempted to get a therapeutic use exemption, but the NFL declined it, and so he is suspended. Realistically, Dill probably wasn’t going to make the 53-player roster anyway, and there’s a good chance he’ll get cut soon and be out of the league anyway.

The league’s rules are tough for players who have a legitimate medical need for testosterone and tough for players who use substances while they’re not even under contract to an NFL team, but that’s how it should be. Handing out permission slips for players to take otherwise banned substances would lead to huge numbers of players using those substances to get an edge. And allowing players to get out of the PED-testing policy by declaring their retirement would lead to a rash of players calling themselves retired, using banned substances, and then coming out of retirement and returning bigger and stronger thanks to PED use.

“It is very difficult for me to accept that a suspension is imposed by the NFL after I followed treatment prescribed by a medical professional during a time when I was not employed by an NFL team,” Dill said.

It’s easy to see why Dill feels that way. But it’s also easy to see why the NFL feels that it has to suspend him.

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Colts activate Donald Thomas from PUP list

Donald Thomas AP

The Colts felt good enough about guard Donald Thomas’s future to sign him to a four-year, $14 million contract before the 2013 season, but they’ve gotten very little return on that investment.

Thomas tore his quadriceps two games into the 2013 season and missed the rest of the year before returning to camp the next year just long enough to tear his quad again. Thomas missed all of last season as well, leaving him with little to show for his time with the Colts.

He’ll get a chance to change that now that the team has activated him from the physically unable to perform list. With a little over a week left before the cut to 53 players, Thomas is going to have to show the Colts he’s capable of helping them pretty quickly.

Thomas is due $3.5 million in base salary this season and it becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster at the start of the regular season. While that salary looks like a lot for a player who has played as little as Thomas, the Colts haven’t been thrilled with the play of their line and that could allow him to stick around.

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Michael Bennett fined for hit on Alex Smith

Michael Bennett AP

During a radio interview earlier this week, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett complained about the different treatment afforded to quarterbacks when it came to salaries and protection from officials.

Bennett referenced Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’s much-discussed hit on Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford and wondered “what makes [a quarterback’s] life better than mine” since Bennett gets hit in the legs on every play. Given his feelings about the rules governing hits to quarterbacks, Bennett probably wasn’t pleased to find out that the league has fined him for a hit in last week’s game.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that Bennett has been fined $17,363 for a hit to the head/neck area of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Bennett was flagged for roughing the passer on Kansas City’s first offensive play of the game and later got a sack of Smith that went unflagged by the officials.

Bennett can appeal the fine and/or use it as the centerpiece for another entertaining radio spot at some point down the line.

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Saints aren’t sweating the Falcons getting a new Mercedes-Benz

GERMANY-INDUSTRY-ECONOMY

Even though their neighbors in the NFC South just got a newer model, the Saints might extend their lease on their current Mercedes-Benz.

The luxury carmaker already had naming rights to the Superdome, and recently announced they had purchased the naming rights to the Falcons’ new stadium as well.

The Falcons move into their new building in 2017, but Saints president Dennis Lauscha said that didn’t mean the Saints deal with Mercedes-Benz couldn’t be renewed beyond its current 2021 expiration, and that they weren’t caught off guard. Lauscha said he talked to Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon before the Falcons announcement.

“He contacted us and said, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to do this. We want to let you know we’re going to do this. We certainly mean no disrespect in any way, shape or form,'” Lauscha said, via Evan Woodberry of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“Not that I’m aware of. I would go so far as to say is that we actually have our head of sponsorship in New York meeting with them (this week),” Lauscha said. “I don’t want to suggest that we’re signing a long-term or anything. I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just saying the relationship is very good. We’re very happy and they’re very happy.”

Of course, Mercedes-Benz is also going to be parking in a nicer driveway soon, so that might change.

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