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Chargers continue special teams spree with Nick Novak deal

Mike Scifres, Nick Novak AP

The Chargers don’t figure to be big spenders, but they’re using the weekend to take care of some of the smaller items on their shopping list.

Having already signed their long snapper to a four-year contract, they’ve also reached a four-year contract with kicker Nick Novak, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Novak replaced the injured Nate Kaeding early last season, and didn’t miss a field goal from inside 50 yards.

The early deal allows the San Diego native to stay with his boyhood team, and allows the Chargers to concentrate on offense and defense when the league year starts Tuesday.

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Chris Berman’s agent denies report of looming retirement

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  TV personality Chris Berman attends ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN) Getty Images

Chris Berman is retiring. Unless he isn’t.

In response to a report that the George Ehhh-weeah-ashington of ESPN’s Mt. Rushmore is retiring after the 2016 NFL season, Berman’s agent tells Richard Sandomir of the New York Times that Berman isn’t calling it quits.

Chris is NOT retiring,” Berman’s agent told Sandomir. “Loves what he’s doing too much and is too young to hang ’em up.”

Berman’s agent also suspects foul play.

Perhaps people with an agenda put it out there,” Berman’s agent told Sandomir.

The news of Berman’s looming retirement comes at a time when ESPN is gutting its Sunday morning NFL programming. Even before TheBigLead.com reported that Berman will call it quits, rumors were rampant that Berman and Tom Jackson would eventually be joining Mike Ditka, Cris Carter, and Keyshawn Johnson as former members of the four-letter network.

If the “people with an agenda” occupy management positions at ESPN, it’s inevitable that Berman will continue his career elsewhere, if he indeed doesn’t retire following the upcoming season, when his contract expires. The last time Berman approached free agency, he reportedly was considering an offer from DirecTV.

With more and more non-traditional companies jockeying for NFL broadcasting rights both now and in the not-too-distant future, it makes plenty of sense for the likes of Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, etc. to consider Berman, who would instantly bring gravitas to any NFL-related production. Whether Berman would be interested in working for a non-traditional outlet is a much different proposition, but very large piles of money go a long way toward the defiance of expectations.

Sure, Berman has become a popular pin cushion for many, but it has happened in part because he’s a broadcasting institution — and because his approach skews toward making himself the center of attention. This doesn’t undermine his skills and his persona, both of which are still significant.

Besides, he’s only 61. At a time when Vin Scully has worked deep into his 80s and Al Michaels is as good as ever in his 70s, Berman surely has plenty of solid years left.

It’s fairly safe to say that those years won’t happen on the air at ESPN. And it’s possible that someone is hoping to provoke the kind of eruption from Mt. Berman that will trigger a possible buyout of his current deal, accelerating his exit from Bristol.

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Jimmy Graham jogging, catching passes at Seahawks OTAs

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 05:  Jimmy Graham #88 of the Seattle Seahawks warms up prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at CenturyLink Field on October 5, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham saw his 2015 season come to an abrupt end when he suffered a torn patellar tendon in a game last November against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have been fairly optimistic that Graham would be ready in time for the start of the regular season, they were able to see another encouraging sign for themselves on Thursday. Graham was on the practice fields during OTAs on Thursday and managed to catch some passes from quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin and Jake Heaps while jogging around during early workouts.

While it’s far from being ready from the rigors of the football season, it’s a good sign that Graham will be ready before games start in September.

“We’re thinking that that’s real possibility, yeah,” Carroll said. “That’s kind of what we are thinking. We have to avoid setbacks, obviously. But we are kind of counting on it.”

Carroll said that running back Thomas Rawls is farther along in the recovery process than Graham is at this point, but both players are progressing well from their surgeries late last season. Rawls suffered a broken ankle last December against the Baltimore Ravens.

“Those guys are both making really good progress.” Carroll said. “Thomas is running and Jimmy is back to running on the field the last couple of days, which is great. He’s made terrific progress. Both of their attitudes are really good. They are really positive about making it.”

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Report: ESPN’s Chris Berman retiring after ’16 season

chris-berman Getty Images

ESPN’s Chris Berman is retiring after the 2016 season, TheBigLead.com reported Thursday.

Berman, 61, is an original ESPN employee and the host of two of the network’s most popular NFL-related shows, Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown.

The report said Berman is in the final year of his contract and will retire sometime after the end of the season that starts this September and ends with the Super Bowl next February. ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz declined comment to TheBigLead.com on the report.

The report lists Trey Wingo and Suzy Kolber as potential Berman replacements. Wingo hosts NFL Live daily, and the report said there’s a “strong internal push” for Kolber to replace Berman.

ESPN has made other changes to its extensive NFL coverage in recent weeks. Ray Lewis and Cris Carter are out at ESPN, and Randy Moss and Charles Woodson are among the new analysts set to join the network’s NFL coverage.

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Jets considered Holmgren as coach before hiring Bowles

Mike Holmgren AP

Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Holmgren was under consideration for the Jets’ head coaching job during the team’s search 16 months ago, Bob Glauber of Newsday in New York reported.

Jets Owner Woody Johnson told Glauber he was “delighted” the search ended up the way it did, with the hiring of Todd Bowles as head coach. But Johnson admitted that he had reached out to Holmgren during the process.

Holmgren was last seen taking a lot of money from former Browns owner Randy Lerner and delivering very little in the way of results in a front-office role from 2010-12. His time with the Browns ended when Jimmy Haslam bought the team.

But Holmgren was a successful coach who got to three Super Bowls and won one, with the Packers. He has a 174-122 career record as a coach with the Packers and Seahawks and has 13 playoff wins.

“This was for coaching, just coaching,” Johnson said of his discussions regarding Holmgren. “It wasn’t for general manager or anything else. That setup doesn’t work normally. You get too many jobs for one person. But I was flattered he took the call. It’s Mike Holmgren we’re talking about. He’s a legendary figure, a great coach. I enjoyed talking to him.”

Holmgren declined to comment to Newsday. He’s a native of the Bay Area and had been linked, at least by the rumor mill, to the 49ers’ coaching openings in the last two offseasons.

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Goodell letter reaffirms $30 million commitment to NIH

Roger Goodell AP

The week began with a Congressional report accusing the NFL of rescinding $16 million from a $30 million gift to the National Institutes of Health due to the league’s disagreement with the NIH’s selection of a researcher to oversee testing aimed at detecting Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in living patients. The week is ending with Commissioner Roger Goodell emphasizing to his constituents that the full $30 million gift remains in place.

“As discussed during our recent meeting, the NFL has a unique responsibility and opportunity to drive change and advance progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries,” Goodell said in a letter to all owners and team presidents, a copy  of which PFT has obtained. “That is our unwavering commitment to our players, former players, athletes at all levels, and society more broadly.”

Goodell explains in the letter that the commitment arises primarily from “continued and robust support of independent medical research,” including the $30 million NIH donation.

“I want to reaffirm in the strongest possible terms my comments to you during the league meeting and my public statements this week reaffirming the NFL’s commitment to the NIH of the $30 million in grant funding we pledged to accelerate scientific understanding of concussion and head injury,” Goodell wrote. “There was no consideration given to anything other than honoring that commitment in its entirety.”

Goodell then explained how the money is being distributed: (1)$12 million allocated through the NIH for two $6 million agreements dedicated to studies that define the long-term changes that occur in the brain after a head injury or multiple concussions; (2) $6 million to the Boston University School of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a study on CTE and post-traumatic neurodegeneration; (3) $6 million for Mount Sinai Hospital for a study on the neuropathology of CTE and Delayed Effects of TBI; and (4) six pilot projects totaling more than $2 million to provide support for the early stages of sports-related concussion projects.

Implicit in this explanation is the concession that the NFL did indeed rescind $16 million that had been earmarked for a study aimed at detecting CTE in living patients. The Congressional report claimed that the NFL removed that specific contribution over objections to the selection of Robert Stern to oversee the research.

While the league definitely deserves credit for the $30 million donation, the issue of the $16 million for a study that would detect CTE in living patients remains. Goodell has characterized any communications with the NIH as part of a normal back and forth. But what the league may regard as normal dialogue apparently was perceived by someone with the NIH and/or Congress as an abnormal attempt to steer away from a researcher whom the league apparently believes has an agenda against the NFL a critical study that could, if it shows widespread CTE in current players, seriously damage the league’s interests.

Regardless of whether the league had just cause to be concerned about Robert Stern presiding over the study, Congress and ESPN (which instigated the investigation with its reporting from last December) caught the league flat-footed on Monday, and the NFL’s efforts to close the gap since then have failed to wipe away the general belief that the league engaged in the kind of behavior chronicled in the film Concussion.

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Packers swap out reserve quarterbacks

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 29: Marquise Williams #12 of the North Carolina Tar Heels sets to throw during the first half of the Russell Athletic Bowl game against the Baylor Bears at Orlando Citrus Bowl on December 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have a great starting quarterback. At the bottom of the depth chart, they have made an adjustment.

Gone is Ryan Williams. Taking his place is former North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams.

Undrafted in May, Marquise Williams set more than 20 records at Chapel Hill, including career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (35), career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,458), and career total offense (10,423 yards).

Ryan Williams, undrafted out of Miami (Fla.) in 2015, signed with the Packers in January. The other quarterbacks on the roster are Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, and Joe Callahan.

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Browns sign second-rounder Ogbah

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 30:  Emmanuel Ogbah #38 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys reacts after sacking Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles in the first half of the Advocare Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns on Thursday announced the signing of their second-round pick, outside linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah.

Ogbah had 28 sacks over three seasons at Oklahoma State and will try to transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Browns. The Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year last fall, Ogbah was twice his team’s defensive MVP in college and twice an All-Big 12 pick. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 275.

Paul Kruger and second-year player Nate Orchard figure as the Browns starting outside linebackers, at least for now. The team declined to pick up the fifth-year option on 2013 first-round pick Barkevious Mingo, who hasn’t produced much over the last two seasons, and Ogbah should have opportunities to prove himself and earn early playing time.

The Browns have now signed seven of the record 14 players they drafted last month.

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Lions waive Tim Wright

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 03:  Timothy Wright #83 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 3, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers traded tight end Tim Wright to the Patriots just before the start of the 2014 season, claimed him off of waivers from the Patriots last June and then traded him to the Lions for kicker Kyle Brindza in August.

Now they have another chance to bring him back to the roster. Wright was waived with an injury designation by the Lions on Thursday.

Wright re-signed with the Lions earlier this offseason after deciding not to tender him as a restricted free agent. He had nine catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns in nine appearances, which marked a drop from the 80 catches for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns that he had while playing every game for the Bucs and Patriots in his first two seasons.

That earlier production could lead a team to give Wright a look heading into the season. If not, he’ll revert to Detroit’s injured reserve or reach an injury settlement with the team that makes him a free agent.

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Ray Rice addresses Ravens rookies

rayrice AP

The Ravens had an interesting speaker in Wednesday to address the team’s rookies as part of an ongoing series of speeches and seminars.

Ray Rice.

The Ravens released Rice in 2014 after video surfaced of Rice punching his then-fiancee. He was suspended indefinitely by the NFL when the video surfaced; he’d previously been facing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Rice has been out of the NFL since.

The team’s statement on Rice speaking to the rookies, released via the team’s Twitter account on Thursday afternoon, said: “Our 27 sessions to our rookies through our player engagement program review and teach life management and life lessons. Rice, who played for the Ravens from 2008-2014, delivered an important message that included his story, both the good and the bad. He clearly had the attention of our rookies.”

The NFL eliminated the Rookie Symposium this year, instead opting for individual team programs and seminars like the one that brought Rice back into the Ravens’ building this week. The goal remains to deliver messages that might keep at-risk players out of bad situations and reinforce that being an NFL player is a privilege, and that’s why the Ravens took the rather bold step of inviting Rice back into their building.

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Cowboys may bid on hosting Super Bowl LVI or LVII

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library Getty Images

The Cowboys have hosted a single Super Bowl in their gigantic stadium. They could soon be trying to host another.

Via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys could make a play for one of the next two Super Bowls to be awarded: Super Bowl LVI, to be played in 2022, or Super Bowl LVII, to be played in 2023. Voting for those two games will occur in May 2018.

The first Super Bowl played at AT&T Stadium in February 2011 was marred by a winter storm that hit six days before the game. Lingering temperatures below freezing coupled with the absence of equipment to remove the ice made travel by car or foot treacherous. Two days before the game, large chunks of ice cascaded from the roof of the venue; if those pieces of ice had fallen two days later when thousands of people were trying to get inside the building for the game, the outcome would have been not good.

The delay in making a bid, as Williams explains it, has arisen primarily from the litigation sparked by an absence of sufficient seats.

“We obviously and totally understand we had business that we needed to clear up here from the previous Super Bowl, which was unfortunate,” Cowboys executive V.P. Stephen Jones said, via Williams. “Hopefully that is coming to an end here this summer, and then hopefully, we’ll be in the hunt. We think this building is special, AT&T Stadium, and certainly a great place for players to come play. I think if you asked players around the league, they certainly enjoy playing the game here. I think North Texas is a great area. I think we were a little snakebit that [Super Bowl 2011] weekend in terms of our weather. I think it’s the first time a snow storm had hit North Texas for a week in 75 years, where kids are out of school for a week.”

It really wasn’t a snowstorm. It was a two-inch coating of ice, on every exposed surface in the region. And there was no means, method, or effort to get rid of it.

When the time comes to make a bid, it’ll be interesting to see whether funds are set aside to prevent that from happening again — or whether the focus will simply be to give the league’s billionaires even more free stuff.

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Ryan Tannehill: A lot of freedom in Adam Gase’s offense

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 03:  Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins in action during the second half of the game against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams said this week that he’s enjoying what he’s seen from the team’s defensive scheme after a dismal year with the Bills in 2015.

Williams isn’t the only member of the team excited about life under a new coaching staff. Unlike Williams, quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have to switch teams to find something more to his liking.

Tannehill said that the offense being installed by coach Adam Gase allows for the quarterback to have more control over adjustments before the play, something that wasn’t the case under the previous regime and something that Tannehill’s teammates said hurt the quarterback at times.

“We do a lot of things differently now,” Tannehill said. “Being on the line of scrimmage adjusting, whether it’s protections, routes, a whole new play — there’s a lot of freedom in what we do. I think it’s going to make us always on the attack. We’re not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense.”

The first year in a new offense can make for some growing pains, but the change in coaches won’t do anything to lower expectations that Tannehill show he can take the next step in his development during the 2016 season.

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Texans sign third-round pick Braxton Miller

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Braxton Miller #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball against the Michigan Wolverines in the second quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans drafted a pair of wide receivers last month and they got one of them under contract on Thursday.

According to multiple reports, the Texans have signed third-round pick Braxton Miller. It’s the standard four-year rookie contract for players picked outside of the first round.

Miller started his Ohio State career as a quarterback and did well before missing the 2014 season with a shoulder injury. He moved to wide receiver for his final college season and caught 26 passes for 341 yards and six touchdowns.

The Texans will have to do more work on polishing Miller’s skills at his new position, but his athletic ability offers the upside that could make for a handsome return on that investment of time.

With Miller signed, first-round wideout Will Fuller is the only unsigned member of the Texans draft class.

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Associated Press considering changes to All-Pro team

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 30:  Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders reacts after sacking Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals at O.co Coliseum on August 30, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Associated Press publishes every January the All-Pro team based on the recently-concluded regular season. And while much of the list is aimed at sparking debate and/or percolating #hottaeks, plenty of players have bonuses, escalators, and/or incentives riding on this honor.

Currently, the AP is exploring (#asexpected) the possibility of “modernizing” the All-Pro team. A source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that input has been requested from all AP voters for potential changes to the structure of the roster.

The All-Pro offense consists of one quarterback, two running backs, a fullback, two receivers, a tight end, a center, two guards, and a tackle. (Curiously, the communication from the AP to the voters did not mention the fullback position, which means either that it already has been dumped or that the position was accidentally omitted, which maybe confirms that it should be dumped.)

On defense, the All-Pro team has two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, two outside linebackers, two inside linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties. The roster also has a kicker, a punter, and a kick returner.

Possible additions to the team include a slot receiver, a nickel back, a pass rusher, and a special-teams player. Voters have been invited to provide input and reasoning through the end of June. Put some of your own input and reasoning below, if you want.

Here’s one idea: The Associated Press should ensure that players get votes at only one position. Last year, Khalil Mack won a first-team spot both as a defensive end and as a linebacker. The easy fix would be to publish a ballot that specifies the position played by the players from each team who possibly will get votes.

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Knile Davis thinks he has a future, even if it’s not with the Chiefs

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 21:  Running back Knile Davis #34 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates his second-quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on September 21, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

Knile Davis doesn’t want his fumble in the playoffs to define him, but he also knows he might not get the chance to redeem himself in Kansas City.

But he also said he didn’t ask to be traded this offseason, even after the Chiefs signed two running backs who were not him to extensions.

I hope so, but that’s not up to me,” Davis said of staying in Kansas City, via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com. “This is my team. I’m under contract. I’m here until I’m not.”

Davis had a chance to play in the postseason, after injuries knocked out Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware, and Charcandrick West. And things seemed promising, at least until his third quarter fumble killed any chance Kansas City had of beating the Patriots.

“It was probably my best game for a while,” Davis said. “I was effective on kickoff returns, caught all my [passes], ran good routes, averaged five [yards] per pop.

“And then [came] the fumble.”

Oh yes, that.

If it were an isolated event, it might be easier to overlook, but Davis hasn’t been the most sure-handed back in the league prior to that, never quite living up to his third-round status. And with kickoff returns minimized with rules changes, his job was already tenuous.

“I feel like I’ve showed glimpses of good ability,” Davis said. “I just need an opportunity. Some people in this league wait six years for their opportunity. Some people get theirs quicker than others. The name of this business is stay healthy and be patient and that’s what I’m doing.

“At this point I can pretty much do it all. I just haven’t had the opportunity to show it. That’s a hard deal. But one day I will get the opportunity to show what I can do and I’m looking forward to that day.”

Of course, the Chiefs signed Ware and West to contract extensions this offseason, so Davis might be forced to wait for free agency for a chance to redeem himself.

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Fines imposed against Harbaugh, Ravens show NFL didn’t think there was a “mistake”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens watches action during the first quarter of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 24, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL did the Ravens a favor by not disclosing the amount of the fines imposed on the team and coach John Harbaugh for violating the rules regarding offseason practices. That’s the extent of any gratuity given to the team or its coach.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement provides that the head coach “shall be subject to a fine in the amount of $100,000 for the first violation,” and the team “shall be subject to a fine in the amount of $250,000 for the first violation.” The base amount of the fines from 2011 increase each year based on growth in league revenue.

In this case, PFT has confirmed that the infraction resulted in fines of $137,223 for Harbaugh and $343,057 for the Ravens. (Jim Trotter of ESPN first reported the fine amounts.)

Article 21, Section 8 of the CBA permits the Commissioner, in consultation with the NFLPA, to reduce the fines if the conduct of the coach resulted from a “good faith” interpretation of the rules regarding offseason workouts or that the violation did not result in a material violation of the rules. Based on Trotter’s report, there was no reduction.

This means, as a practical matter, that the NFL didn’t buy the team’s claim that it made a “mistake” when it put players in pads during rookie minicamp. Ultimately, the NFL cut the Ravens no slack, imposing more than $480,000 in fines on the coach and his team.

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