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10 things to know about the franchise tag

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The franchise tag is old enough to vote, and nearly old enough to drink.  The tag made its annual return more than a week ago.  Unlike the Great Pumpkin, the tool for restricting a player’s ability to move from team to team will indeed make an appearance, in multiple NFL cities.

Eventually.  We think.  Perhaps starting as soon as today.

So here are 10 things to know about the tag.  You may have already known them.  You may have known and forgotten.  Or you may not have known at all.

Or perhaps that you didn’t want to know.

1.  The formula has changed.

Under prior labor deals, the non-exclusive franchise tag was determined by calculating the average of the five highest-paid players at each position from the prior year.  Under the 2011 CBA, the franchise tenders come from a more complex procedure.

Under Article 10, Section 2 of the CBA, the number is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position.

So it’s no longer driven by what players at the same position made in the prior season, but by the average cap percentage consumed by the franchise tender over five years.  Then, that percentage will be applied to the 2013 salary cap to determine the franchise tender at each position.

Already confused?  We’ve got nine more.

2.  In some cases, the formula doesn’t matter.

A player getting the non-exclusive franchise tag is entitled to the greater of the formula clumsily explained above (and that was the fourth draft of it) or 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the prior year.

That’s why, for example, the franchise tender for Dolphins tackle Jake Long would be much higher than the franchise tender for an offensive lineman.  Long made enough in 2012 to result in a 20-percent raise, trumping the franchise tender.

This dynamic often applies to players who were taken high in the draft before the implementation of the rookie wage scale.  As rookie contracts expire under the new labor deal, franchise tenders for many of them will be lower.

3.  The transition tag has become meaningless.

Teams can use, in any given year, one franchise tag or one transition tag.  The transition tag gives a team the right to match an offer sheet, but no compensation if the team chooses not to match.

At one point, the transition player’s contract was not fully guaranteed once it was accepted by the player.  It now is.

The fact that the guaranteed pay on the one-year transition tender isn’t much less than the guaranteed pay for the one-year franchise tender, coupled with the lack of draft-pick compensation, has made the transition tag largely meaningless.

4.  Franchise tags can be withdrawn.

The amount of the franchise tender becomes fully guaranteed once the player signs it.  Since signing the franchise tender puts the player under contract, requiring him to show up to all mandatory offseason activities and training camp, some players choose to wait deep into the preseason before inking the offer.

The risk is that the franchise tag can be withdrawn, at any time, before it has been signed.

It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented.  Especially in Philly.  In 2002, the Eagles pulled the franchise tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in early April.  Three years later, the Eagles removed the franchise tag from defensive tackle Corey Simon in late August.

The move immediately converts the player to an unrestricted free agent.  But if it comes after the big money has been spent, the player will have a hard time getting the pay day he would have realized on the first day of free agency.

5.  Franchise tender is guaranteed, with one exception.

Once a player signs the franchise tag, the one-year salary becomes fully guaranteed.  But there’s a little-known exception.

Under Article 10, Section 2(c) of the CBA, the contract can be terminated if the player fails “to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition.”

Any effort to do so would result in a review of the situation by a neutral physician and, eventually and inevitably, arbitration.  Still, the franchise tender technically isn’t fully and completely guaranteed.

6.  No non-quarterback will be tagged more than twice.

Former Seahawks tackle Walter Jones once spent three straight years under the franchise tag, pocketing a total of $20 million and then signing a long-term deal that paid him $20 million more guaranteed, back when $20 million was a very big deal for NFL purposes.

Jones rolled the dice on bearing the injury risk for the three franchise years, and he won.  Most players prefer the certainty of a long-term deal.

That’s why the 2006 CBA changed the formula to pay a non-quarterback the quarterback franchise tender if he’s tagged a third time.

Quarterbacks are protected, too.  In the third year of the franchise tag, they get at least a 44-percent raise over their cap number in the prior year.

7.  Arguably, no player can be tagged more than three times.

Last year’s grievance filed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees established that, if a player is tagged once by two different teams, it counts as being tagged twice.  Which would have entitled him to a 44-percent raise in 2013, if he had played under the franchise tag last year for the Saints.  (He was tagged in 2005 by the Chargers.)

Based on the language of the CBA, there’s an argument to be made that no player may ever be tagged more than three times during the course of his career.

Of course, tagging a player a fourth time would entail paying out a second 44-percent raise one year after paying out an initial 44-percent raise.  Which would make it highly unlikely that any team would ever want to use the tag more than three times.

8.  It’s cheap to tag kickers and punters.

There’s a belief among some fans that the use of the franchise tag meant that the player was a “franchise player.”  And so, when a team uses the tag on a punter or a kicker, fans are confused and/or amused.

But the formula for calculating franchise tenders has made it cheaper to use the tag than to sign the player to a market-value deal.

At $2.9 million for 2013, more kickers and punters could find themselves being regarded as “franchise players.”

9.  Long-term deals can be negotiated, through July 15.

Previously, the window for a team signing its franchise player to a long-term deal closed not long after the free-agency period started and then opened again on July 15.  Now, the window remains open until July 15.

After July 15, the franchise player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.  It can be for more than the franchise tender, and it can include other terms, like playing-time or performance triggers that would prevent the tag from being used again.

But the duration can be no more than one year.

10.  One offer sheet may be signed, through July 15.

For a player carrying the non-exclusive tag, he can negotiate with any other team.  Ultimately, one offer sheet can be signed.

Once it’s signed, the situation simplifies considerably.  The player’s current team will match the offer and keep him, or the player’s team will not match the offer and collect a pair of first-round picks from the new team.

The two first-round picks given as compensation must be the team’s original picks — not any picks obtained via trade or otherwise.

And there’s a loophole which, eventually, a desperate coach or G.M. may use.  The period for signing franchise players to offer sheets lingers beyond the current year’s draft.  Thus, for example, a team that wants to sign quarterback Joe Flacco (if the Ravens use the non-exclusive tag) could, in theory, wait until after the draft, sign Flacco to a front-loaded offer sheet that the Ravens can’t match, and then surrender not the 2013 and 2014 first-round picks, but the first-round picks for 2014 and 2015.

There’s nothing in the labor deal that prevents this from happening until July 15, after which date the player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.

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Jameis Winston looks flabby at Florida State Pro Day

Jameis Winston AP

Looking at a college quarterback’s physique isn’t a great way to determine whether he’ll be a good pro. Tom Brady didn’t look special at the Combine. Brady Quinn looked so good they put him on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.

But the fact is NFL teams do weigh and measure draft prospects, and look at them shirtless to see whether they look flabby or muscular. And Winston looks flabby.

Winston has looked flabby for a long time now. Maybe he’s just a guy who doesn’t look very athletic, but is able to produce on the field anyway.

Or maybe he’s more like JaMarcus Russell, whom the Raiders drafted first overall despite concerns that his flabby physique was evidence of a lack of work ethic. That pick didn’t turn out too well.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher claims he can’t understand why there are questions about Winston’s character, a ridiculous claim given that a woman says Winston raped her. There are also questions about Winston’s work ethic, and Winston’s physique does nothing to quell those questions.

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Jaguars cut their last fullback, unless they already have one in mind

Toby Gerhart AP

It wouldn’t necessarily be big news that the Jaguars waived fullback Bradie Ewing.

But it is reasonably interesting that they don’t have any now, as Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union points out.

The Jaguars made a run at DeMarco Murray, which tells you they wanted to upgrade there. And claiming Bernard Pierce off waivers shows you they’re going to look high and low for more bodies at running back.

And with Denard Robinson showing some flashes there, it makes you wonder what their intentions are for last year’s free agent pickup, Toby Gerhart.

To call his debut season with the Jaguars a disappointment would be kind, averaging 3.2 yards per carry after an early foot injury he couldn’t seem to shake.

Whether he could return to his form if healthy remains to be seen. Now, it’s worth watching to see if they simply turn him into a fullback, and try to get something for that three-year, $10.5 million contract they gave him a year ago.

There have been reports they want to turn him into an H-back, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Media points, out, which seems like as good an idea as anything.

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Jacquizz Rodgers visiting Bears

Jacquizz Rodgers ,Kevin Minter AP

The Bears have Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey on the top two rungs of their running back depth chart and it appears they’re open to adding a little veteran depth to go with that duo.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Jacquizz Rodgers is visiting with the Bears. Rodgers spent four years with the Falcons after Atlanta drafted him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.

Rodgers was of most use in the passing game during his tenure with the Falcons, catching 155 passes for 1,104 yards and five touchdowns while also playing the role of pass blocker when the situation called for it. He didn’t add nearly as much as a runner, but that’s probably not the chief concern in Chicago with Forte and Carey already on hand.

The Falcons parted ways with Steven Jackson, leaving Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith in Atlanta’s backfield at the moment.

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PFT Live: Kevin White, PFT Planet calls and tweets

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Kevin White is expected to be one of the first two wide receivers off the board in the first round on April 30 and we heard his thoughts on why he should go before Amari Cooper during a visit with PFT on NBCSN on Monday evening.

During Tuesday’s PFT Live, they’ll be an opportunity to hear even more from White. He’ll talk to Mike Florio about his preparations from the draft and what he’s heard from teams as we move closer to finding out where this year’s top prospects will land.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Patriots security chief confirms Hernandez’s alibi attempt

Hernandez AP

At the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was followed to the witness stand by Patriots security director Mark Briggs.  And Briggs confirmed the most important aspect of Kraft’s testimony.

Via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Briggs (like Kraft) testified that Hernandez said he didn’t kill Lloyd, and that Hernandez was at a “club.”

He swore on his baby’s life he was telling the truth,” Briggs said of Hernandez.

Hernandez definitely wasn’t telling the truth about his whereabouts.  The prosecution will now hope that this will help the jury conclude he also wasn’t telling the truth about his innocence.

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Mark Ingram “looking forward” to splitting time with C.J. Spiller

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Mark Ingram got the most work of his NFL career during the 2014 season and responded with 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the final year of his rookie contract.

Ingram parleyed that success into a new four-year, $16 million deal with the Saints, but not into a role as an offensive workhorse. The Saints gave a similar deal to C.J. Spiller a couple of days after signing Ingram, all but ensuring that the two backs will be shuffled in and out of the lineup over the course of the season.

Ingram’s been in that position with the Saints before and says he’s not bothered about being in the same spot after his successful 2014 campaign.

“He’s a special player,” Ingram said, via ESPN.com. “He’s a game-breaker, can take it to the house no matter where he is on the field, punt return, kick return, pass, run. So I’m looking forward to it. … So it wasn’t anything strange or anything when we signed him. I talked to him before it even got announced.”

Ingram and Spiller bring different things to the offense, which should provide plenty of room for both of them to thrive without being asked to do things outside their skill set. Given Spiller’s receiving ability, they could even share time on an offense that figures to take on a different shape with Jimmy Graham now plying his trade in Seattle.

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Kraft tells jury Hernandez said he was in “club” during shooting

Hernandez AP

Testifying on Tuesday in the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, Patriots owner Robert Kraft provided a piece of evidence that could be very useful for the prosecution.

Via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Kraft told jurors that Hernandez denied involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd, explaining that he was in a “club” at the time of the shooting.

As Wetzel notes, the evidence introduced to date makes it clear that Hernandez wasn’t in a “club” at the time of the shooting.  Which indicates Hernandez lied to Kraft.

Hernandez may dispute that he gave a false explanation to the man who at the time of the shooting was Hernandez’s ultimate boss.  But Hernandez has only one way to rebut the testimony from Robert Kraft — by taking the witness stand.

That’s where the right to remain silent creates a huge dilemma for a criminal defendant.  While the accused isn’t compelled to testify in court, anything he has said out of court can be used against him.  Since it’s a statement from a party to the lawsuit, it’s not hearsay.  And as it relates to one-on-one communications, it’s unchallenged unless the defendant chooses to waive the right against self-incrimination and testify.

Hernandez most likely won’t be testifying at all.  To do so would expose him to cross-examination. Which could quickly erase any chance his lawyers have of identifying “reasonable doubt” during closing arguments.

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Golden Tate: Losing Suh doesn’t add to pressure on the offense

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The Lions Offense struggled at times in 2014, but the team was able to advance to the postseason thanks to one of the best defenses in the league.

That unit won’t have Ndamukong Suh back in the middle of the defensive line in 2015, something that wide receiver Golden Tate reasonably considers “a big hit” to the team as they prepare for the coming season. Tate doesn’t think that the loss of Suh is going to put extra pressure on the offense to carry the load, however.

“No, I don’t think it adds any pressure,” Tate said, via ESPN.com. “We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week. We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There’s no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football.”

Suh wasn’t the only reason why Detroit’s defense thrived last season. He was a big one, though, and some slippage is a reasonable expectation now that he’s gone. That might not put any more pressure on the offense to improve than there would be if he was still in Detroit, but the need to improve exists either way.

Having a healthy Calvin Johnson would help on that front as would progress from tight end Eric Ebron in his second season. Throw in a running game that underwhelmed last year and there’s three places where the Lions offense could show growth that can help offset their big offseason loss.

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Robert Kraft takes the stand at Aaron Hernandez murder trial

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The Patriots had largely been able to keep themselves at arms length from the Aaron Hernandez murder trial, until today.

Via multiple reports, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is in the Fall River Justice Center today, and has been called to the stand.

Trainer Brian McDonough was called to the stand in late February to testify about a series of text messages he exchanged with Hernandez. McDonough doesn’t work for the team, but worked with a number of players at Gillette Stadium.

Coach Bill Belichick and linebacker Brandon Spikes are also on the witness list, though it’s unclear if they’ll actually be asked to testify.

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Tyrann Mathieu: I want to let everyone know I’m back

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Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu was able to return to the lineup in Week Two last season, which marked a relatively quick turnaround after he tore his ACL late in his rookie season.

Mathieu didn’t immediately return to a prominent place in the lineup and then missed a couple of games late in the season when he broke his thumb just as he was finding his stride on the field. Coach Bruce Arians said it “was very frustrating” for Mathieu to not be the player he was used to being last year and Mathieu said he felt he didn’t make enough plays to help the team, but things are looking up.

Arians said he sees “a gleam” in Mathieu’s eyes that was missing in 2014 as the safety prepares to restore what was missing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said, via the team’s website. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This [year] is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

How Mathieu will fit into the lineup isn’t entirely clear since the Cardinals have Tony Jefferson, Deone Buccannon and Rashad Johnson at safety in a defense that’s been creative about utilizing all of them. If he’s back to his old playmaking ways, though, he’ll be filling a major role one way or another.

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Jameis Winston will be on center stage again at pro day today

Jameis AP

For a moment today, Jameis Winston won’t have to answer questions about his past or his maturity or his ability to be the face of a franchise.

For a moment today, he’s going to get to do the thing he’s very good at — throw a football.

Winston will be on center stage today for Florida State’s pro day, and that might come as a reprieve for him after all the digging and poking that teams have done at him since the process began.

Now, as soon as the workout’s over, that will begin again for another month. But today might serve as a reminder for the teams at the top of the draft of what he can offer.

He’s big and strong. Can make all the throws. Has shown good football IQ and led his team to a 26-1 record and a national championship in two years as the starter at Florida State.

So in the tightly scripted world of quarterback auditions, the chance he’ll look bad during this workout seems slim.

But the entire league will be watching, and monitoring his every move, just to see how he responds to the pressure of it all.

Again.

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Stevan Ridley visiting Dolphins on Tuesday

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We heard over the weekend that running back Stevan Ridley had lined up his first visit of the free agency season and Tuesday brings word that it will be with a team he faced quite often while he was a member of the Patriots.

James Walker of ESPN.com reports that Ridley will be in Miami to visit with the Dolphins.

Ridley is recovering from a torn ACL that ended his 2014 season after six games. Ridley ran for 340 yards and two touchdowns before his injury as a lead part of the backfield rotation in New England. The Patriots moved on to LeGarrette Blount after Ridley’s injury and there hasn’t been much sign that the Pats are interested in bringing him back for a fifth season.

Lamar Miller ran for 1,099 yards last season, but the Dolphins didn’t have a good complement for him in the backfield once Knowshon Moreno was lost for the season to a torn ACL of his own. Ridley could provide that complement for 2015 at an attractive price while he tries to show he’s healthy enough to earn a bigger commitment heading into the 2016 season.

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Browns may make a move for Mariota, or try again for Bradford

Mariota AP

In yet another sign that those around the Browns do not see Johnny Manziel as the franchise quarterback, a recent report out of Cleveland suggests that the Browns may try to move up in the draft for Marcus Mariota, or try again to acquire Sam Bradford.

Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes that the Browns are fully prepared to start Josh McCown this year, but they’re also not done trying to get better at the quarterback position. In fact, Cabot thinks the Browns will try to trade up in the draft for Mariota, and may also make another run at Bradford.

The Browns offered the Rams a first-round draft pick for Bradford and the Rams declined, deciding instead to take the Eagles’ offer of Nick Foles. But the Browns could see if the Eagles would trade Bradford. There’s been talk that what Chip Kelly really wants is to move up and draft Mariota, his old Oregon quarterback. If the Browns, who own two first-round picks, could help give Kelly the ammunition to move up and get his guy, Kelly might be willing to part with Bradford.

But if the Browns have the ammunition to move up for Mariota, they might just do that themselves. Bradford comes with an expensive 2015 salary and becomes a free agent next year. If the Browns can get Mariota, they’ve got their franchise quarterback for years to come.

Of course, that’s what they thought last year when they drafted Manziel. Instead, Cabot writes that the Browns are down on him and may not even be able to get much for Manziel in a trade. Cabot speculates that maybe Jerry Jones is interested in Manziel.

Or maybe Chip Kelly is interested in Manziel.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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What will an extension for DT Marcell Dareus cost the Bills?

Renovations at the Dolphins’ stadium are rolling right along.

Assessing Ole Miss S Cody Prewitt’s fit with the Patriots.

Todd McShay of ESPN has the Jets taking LB/DE Randy Gregory in his latest mock draft.

The Ravens are still looking for help at tight end.

The Bengals have received good reviews for their offseason moves.

An argument that the Browns should be thankful for a light penalty for General Manager Ray Farmer’s in-game texting.

Former Steelers RB Baron Batch has transitioned to a business career in Pittsburgh.

What areas does Texans coach Bill O’Brien want to see improve in 2015?

The Colts looks set for a competition for the starting center job.

There are still some intriguing free agents available for the Jaguars.

Titans General Manager Ruston Webster doesn’t think the team’s draft board will change much in the next month.

T Michael Schofield has added weight as part of his push for playing time with the Broncos.

Chiefs LB Tamba Hali and WR Jeremy Maclin met up with the Mexican national soccer team.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio thinks his staff can boost the play of the team’s cornerbacks.

Chargers DE Corey Liuget showed off a new part of his offseason workout routine.

The Cowboys website touts RB Darren McFadden’s affordability as a replacement for DeMarco Murray.

Giants WR Odell Beckham’s basketball skills have caught the notice of others in the NFL.

Analyzing the impact of LB DeMeco Ryans’s extension with the Eagles.

Redskins DT Stephen Paea once downed a 52-ounce steak in one sitting.

Bears QB Jimmy Clausen has shared some of his wedding video with the masses.

Texas A&M T Cedric Ogbuehi visited with the Lions.

Some thoughts on the Packers bringing back defensive tackles Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji.

Waffle fries are one of the new things Vikings T and Poland native Babatunde Aiyegbusi is experiencing after signing with the team.

LB Brooks Reed likes the defensive mindset of the Falcons coaching staff.

A look at Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart’s contract situation.

UCLA DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa is scheduled for a visit with the Saints.

The Buccaneers will get another look at Florida State QB Jameis Winston at his pro day.

An early projection of the Cardinals starting lineup on offense.

The Rams are making things simpler on defense.

Will the 49ers take a cornerback in the first round?

A look at center options for the Seahawks.

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Browns, Falcons penalties likely won’t be relevant to #DeflateGate

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The punishments imposed Monday on the Browns and Falcons for their violations of game-integrity provisions suggested a surprising degree of lenience from the league.  Sure, the teams will pay a combined $600,000 into the NFL’s coffers (fine money typically is used for charitable endeavors), but between them only one draft pick was lost — a fifth-round selection in 2016.

So this is good news for the Patriots, who still face potential punishment for allegedly tampering with the air pressure in footballs during the AFC championship, right?

Maybe not.  The Browns and Falcons admitted guilt quickly, allowing the situations to be resolved without further fattening Ted Wells’ fees.  The Patriots, in contrast, have strongly and vehemently denied wrongdoing.

And the Patriots very well may face no punishment at all, if Wells concludes they did nothing wrong.  But if Wells eventually finds a smoking gun or concludes based on the circumstantial evidence that the infraction occurred, the league may go harder on the Patriots, relatively speaking, since the Patriots failed to acknowledge their misconduct.

Regardless of how it plays out, the Patriots aren’t likely to get a slap on the wrist.  Either they’re innocent and there will be no punishment, or they’re guilty (which would make their strong denials hollow at best, false at worst) and there will be a significant punishment.

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