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New NFL memo contradicts plain language of revised rules

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If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be funny.

After years of looking the other way despite blatant tampering in the days and weeks prior to the official launch of free agency, which often featured the negotiation of multi-million-dollar contracts in a matter of minutes and/or the instantaneous making and execution of travel plans to visit teams, the league has created a three-day window during which negotiations may occur between teams and agents representing free agents.

The “2013 free agency questions and answers” published by the NFL on Thursday plainly state: “Beginning at 12:00 midnight ET on Saturday, March 9 (i.e., after 11:59:59 p.m. ET, on Friday, March 8) and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.  However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.”

This language does not prohibit the finalization of an agreement in principle, with the formal contract execution coming the moment the close strikes 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12.  Thus language implies that everything can be prepared by Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. for the prompt execution of the formal contract.

But even at a time when tampering has been rampant and blatant (as anyone who attended the Scouting Combine and/or stayed at one of the hotels swarming with team employees and player agents knows), the NFL has reportedly warned teams not to strike agreements in principle with agents before 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.

The memo sent Friday to all teams, a copy of which PFT has obtained reiterates that “no contract can be executed until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12.”

In the next breath, the memo explains that “prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year.”

So what the hell are the teams and agents supposed to be negotiating?

The limitation in the document dubbed PP-28-13 contradicts the plain language of the rule articulated in PP-26-13.  If the original limitation was that no contract may be executed before 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12, the notion that no verbal understandings may be reached by then guts the rule.  And turns common sense on its head.

The most amazing aspect of PP-28-13 is the threat of a “tampering investigation.”  When it comes to tampering investigations, the league has been impotent for years, pursuing only the most blatant, defiant, and/or idiotic instances of tampering and turning a blind but knowing eye to countless instances of it.

The NFL doesn’t pursue tampering cases in part because everyone does it.  So now, out of the blue, the NFL threatens a tampering investigation against any team that reaches a tentative agreement during a period expressly allowing everything short of a signed contract?  Really?

It’s a joke, but it all points to something former Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli first mentioned last month on Pro Football Talk:  The league is building toward a contrived “signing day,” on which players will announce that which previously was unknown to anyone except the player and his family.

Still, it’s impractical in this context, and we can’t imagine that a sudden wave of huffing and puffing from a league office that has little capacity to blow anything down if the teams are discreet will keep teams from striking informal deals and then getting the word out in order to scare other teams away from the player.

Obviously, we encourage discreet defiance.  In part because I just slept three hours so that I could stay up all night and write about the agreements in principle that, prior to Friday’s memo, the new rules clearly allowed.

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Jeremy Maclin: “I think we’ll be fine” without DeSean Jackson

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The Eagles’ decision to part ways with DeSean Jackson put a little bit more pressure on wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin in the 2014 season.

Jackson led the Eagles in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season, leaving a lot of production to replace on offense. It won’t all come down to those two players and the Eagles will likely draft a receiver, all of which leaves Maclin feeling confident that the team can still thrive with Jackson wearing a Redskins uniform.

“I think we’ll be fine, man. Obviously DeSean is one of the better playmakers in this league but we’re moving forward and I think we’ll be just fine,” Maclin said, via Tim McManus of PhillyMag.com. “I have faith in the offense and I have faith in the guys that we have in the locker room and on the football field. Chip said it himself: the offense is not built around one guy. We have multiple guys that go out there and make plays, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this year.”

It will help if Maclin’s fully recovered from last year’s torn ACL and he says he feels that he’d be fully cleared if training camp started right now. He’s participating in all of the workouts right now and doesn’t plan on wearing a knee brace when he does get back on the field, which are both good signs for the Eagles offense as it moves forward without Jackson.

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Jim Caldwell uncertain about Chris Houston’s ability to return to form

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In February, Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew said that he was “very confident” that cornerback Chris Houston would bounce back from a poor 2013 season.

Coach Jim Caldwell isn’t so sure. Caldwell said Thursday that Houston has a clean slate with the new coaching staff after a season that saw him deal with a toe injury and his father’s name coming up during former NFL wide receiver Sam Hurd’s drug trafficking trial, but pointed out that a rebound is far from certain after such a sharp drop in productivity.

“I’m not certain,” Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You’re never 100 percent certain about anything. I can’t be certain if I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning. Tomorrow’s not promised to me, so I’m not certain. We’ll see. He’s a young man, and typically, they heal pretty quickly, unlike old guys like me. We anticipate that he’ll come along, but we’ll have to just wait and see.”

Caldwell said Houston’s toe problem is still affecting him and the uncertainty about Houston’s future could lead the Lions to look for help at corner during the draft. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert visited on Thursday and could be a possibility with the 10th pick in the first round. That wouldn’t make a Houston rebound unnecessary, but it would give the team another option in the event Houston can’t recover his old form.

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Report: Preseason extra points to be snapped from the 15, not the 20

Kai Forbath, Sav Rocca AP

The NFL will have its kickers try longer extra points in the first two weeks of the preseason.

However, the attempts will be shorter than first announced in March.

NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Thursday that the longer preseason extra points will be snapped from the 15-yard-line, not the 20-yard-line, Bob Glauber of Newsday reported.

According to Glauber, Blandino said the NFL’s Competition Committee suggested the change. Glauber also reported that some teams believed extra points snapped from the 20 would be exceedingly challenging.

In March, NFL owners tabled a proposal to move extra points to the 25-yard-line. However, the league did agree to try the extra points from the 20 in the preseason.

Now, the line of scrimmage has been moved five yards closer for those early-preseason extra points. For those looking for a serious, lasting shakeup to the staid extra point, today’s news is a downer.

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L.A. district attorney refers Aldon Smith case to city attorney

Aldon Smith AP

The case of Aldon Smith’s fake bomb threat is being passed around like a real hot potato.

First, LAX police gave the file to the LAPD Criminal Conspiracy Unit.  Now, the L.A. County district attorney’s office has punted the prosecution to the L.A. city attorney.

According to the Associated Press, the case has been sent from the county D.A. to the city D.A. for “misdemeanor consideration.”  That’s good news for Smith, who previously was facing a potential felony charge.

There’s a chance Smith ultimately faces no prosecution at all, if the powers-that-be decide he was making a really dumb joke.  But if they decide to deter non-celebrities from making similarly dumb jokes in an airport security line, they should consider pushing the issue.

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Draft delay not good for the NFL

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Mark Cuban may have been right.

It took me a while to type that.  I don’t want Mark Cuban to be right, for various reasons.  Including, you know, Mark Cuban.

But I’ve come to wonder whether Cuban may be on to something when he talks about the NFL getting too big for its own good.  Of the league getting so big that the audience becomes taken for granted.

Whatever the motivation — the given excuse was a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall for an event that eventually was canceled due to lack of interest — the NFL’s decision to bump back the draft by two weeks has been as much of a dud as the NFL-sanctioned film Draft Day.  A palpable fatigue has emerged regarding the draft.  We sense it, and we (or at least I) currently have it.

While the league reportedly would like to space out the three major offseason tent poles (Scouting Combine, free agency, and draft) to March, April, and May, respectively, moving the draft to May while leaving the other two in place has created the worst thing any media-driven industry can have:  A lull.

No one likes the lull.  Also, agents don’t like the fact that teams have more times to ask players to engage in private workouts.  Teams don’t like having more time to evaluate and obsess and think and re-think.

As one G.M. said via text on Wednesday night, “Remind me again why the draft is not tomorrow? Is it so we can see another two weeks of mock drafts?”

We’ve yet to hear from anyone who likes the two-week delay, and the extended vacuum that it creates in the offseason.

By the time the draft begins, nearly two months will have passed since the start of free agency.  And while the schedule release provided a temporary oasis from the lagging of the offseason calendar, a feeling remains that too much time is elapsing between major offseason events.

Here’s hoping the NFL, in its admirable desire to always improve the product, recognizes and admits that the effort to improve the product by delaying the draft by two weeks hasn’t.  Here’s hoping that the NFL moves the draft back to what would have been tonight, keeping it there unless and until the other two major offseason events move deeper into the calendar as well.

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Should the Vikings draft a first-round quarterback?

Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel AP

Will the Vikings draft a quarterback with the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft? That’s the big question as we examine the Vikings’ draft needs.

Three years ago, the Vikings used their first-round pick on a quarterback, Christian Ponder. Although Ponder remains on the roster, no one thinks he’s the franchise quarterback of the future. That raises the question of whether the Vikings will use this year’s first-round pick on a quarterback. If they do, Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M are all candidates.

But quarterback is far from the only need for a team that also has question marks at several other positions and is coming off a very disappointing 2013 season. The Vikings may be better off turning elsewhere at No. 8.

Tell us what you think the Vikings should do, and check out our look at the Vikings’ draft needs here.

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Ravens agree to deal with WR LaQuan Williams

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

The Ravens have reportedly reached a deal with wide receiver LaQuan Williams, who played 23 regular season games for the club from 2011 through 2012.

Williams indicated he would be returning to Baltimore on his verified Twitter account. The Baltimore Sun and WNST-AM in Baltimore also reported Williams’ agreement with the Ravens. According to Aaron Wilson of the Sun, Williams will receive a one-year contract.

The 25-year-old Williams notched nine special teams tackles and caught four passes for 46 yards in his two seasons with the Ravens. The club waived him in September 2013. After his departure from Baltimore, Williams had a 10-day stint with the Patriots during the 2013 regular season.

A University of Maryland product, Williams seems likely to compete for the reserve wideout and special teams coverage roles he had in his previous stint in Baltimore.

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Bears worked out Darius Reynaud on Wednesday

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The Bears, who signed tailback Shaun Draughn on Wednesday, also took a look another veteran running back with kick-returning experience yesterday.

According to Howard Balzer of The Sports Xchange, the Bears tried out Darius Reynaud, who had stints with the Jets and Titans a season ago. Other media outlets have also reported Reynaud’s workout for Chicago.

The 29-year-old Reynaud has made his biggest impact as a kickoff and punt returner on the NFL level. The sixth-year pro from West Virginia has returned 104 kickoffs for 2,347 yards, and he has brought back 102 punts for 985 yards. He has three career return touchdowns: two on punts and one on a kickoff.

The Bears allowed Devin Hester to leave in free agency, leaving the club a little more unsettled at the returner positions than it’s been in some time. However, the Bears do have multiple players with return experience on the roster, with Draughn, Eric Weems and Josh Morgan among the potential candidates to return kicks.

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Goodell: Playoff expansion to be discussed at next owners meeting

Goodell AP

An expanded NFL playoff field is probably inevitable, even if it’s not imminent.

But don’t tell that to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell told Bob Glauber of Newsday that owners would discuss the proposal at their May 20 meeting in Atlanta, with a vote possible.

Of course, even the owners involved aren’t sure it can be fast-tracked for the 2014 season, with Giants president John Mara saying this week he wasn’t sure there was time to implement such a plan for the coming season.

Then there’s also the matter of getting the players to sign off.

Mara noted “my guess is that it’s going to pass at some point,” and that’s probably the right approach to take. Even if some believe the NFL risks oversaturation by fiddling with a good product, the move to 14 teams looks like something that’s happening, and the only real discussion is the when.

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No holes in Vikings schedule, despite presence of Gophers

Minnesota v Indiana Getty Images

Making an NFL schedule is complicated enough, but with the Vikings in someone else’s building, it added a layer to the proceedings.

According to Master Tesfatsion of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the league had to work around a number of requests from the University of Minnesota while the Vikings are using TCF Bank Stadium.

The agreement between the Vikings and the school said that the Vikings could only have one weeknight game when class was in session (which they avoided by playing their Thursday night game on the road).

They also have to work preseason games around move-in week in August, and finals in December. The Vikings play at Detroit while Minnesota students are studying for finals.

The Vikings and Gophers will only have one shared weekend of home games, when the University plays Northwestern on Oct. 11 and the Vikings host the Lions the next day.  (So much purple in Minneapolis that weekend, even Prince will be confused.)

Perhaps most importantly, they were able to avoid conflicts with the Minnesota State Fair (Aug. 21-Sept. 1).

For the sake of the enthusiasts of walleye-on-a-stick and rhubarb pie contests, we can all breathe a sigh of relief for that.

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Report: Bucs would seriously consider Manziel at No. 7

Manziel Getty Images

Since the draft should be today but won’t be today because the NFL moved it to two weeks from today, we’ll spend today and the next 13 tomorrows wondering what will happen when draft day finally is today.

The guy about which everyone wonders the most is quarterback Johnny Manziel.  Though some continue to insist Manziel won’t be taken in round one, we’d be shocked if he’s on the board when Thursday night ends.

We won’t be shocked if Manziel hears his name called in the top 10.  The latest team to join the list of potential top-10 teams that could take Manziel is the Buccaneers.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the Buccaneers would “seriously consider” taking Manziel, if he’s on the board at No. 7.  The Bucs see Manziel as being “very unique,” having a “good arm and accuracy,” and generally being a “great athlete.”

That all may be true, but we can’t help but “seriously consider” whether the Bucs would like to see someone cut the line in front of the Buccaneers and take Manziel, pushing down the board a player the Bucs actually prefer.  There’s otherwise no reason to let it be known that the Bucs would take Manziel.

But since we’ve got two more weeks to go, get ready for more smokescreens and obfuscations (hey, watch your mouth) before the time comes to pick the players.

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Paul McCartney to perform at final concert at Candlestick Park

Paul McCartney AP

The headliner at Candlestick’s Park final concert is a legendary musical performer who has some experience playing at the soon-to-be closed stadium.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Paul McCartney will play the closing show at Candlestick Park on Thursday, August 14, a website dedicated to the artist’s work announced Thursday.

The show, according to PaulMcCartney.com, has been tabbed “Farewell to Candlestick: The Final Concert.”

PaulMcCartney.com bills itself as the “Official Website” of the 72-year-old performer.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle had reported that the 49ers had wanted McCartney to perform the first show at Levi’s Stadium.

According to McCartney’s website, The Beatles’ final concert was at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966.

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Spurrier thinks the Texans “have to” take Clowney

Steve Spurrier AP

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier says the Houston Texans have only one option with the first overall pick in the NFL draft: Select former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

“Yeah, I think you have to,” Spurrier said when asked by Dan Patrick if the Texans should take Clowney.

Spurrier said if there was a franchise quarterback like Andrew Luck in this draft, it might be a different story. But Spurrier doesn’t believe any of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft is that kind of elite talent, and as a result he says CLowney is the clear choice.

“He’s a really good football player, and obviously pass rushing is what he does best,” Spurrier said. “He’s a pass rusher like nobody I think I’ve ever seen in college football.”

Spurrier has been candid about Clowney not always having the best work ethic, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no question about who the most talented player in this draft is. That’s Clowney.

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Report: Patriots sign Josh Hull

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Linebacker Josh Hull was released by the Redskins earlier this month, but it looks like he’s landed a new job.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Patriots have signed Hull to a one-year deal.

No financial terms were disclosed, but it is unlikely that Hull got more than the minimum salary for a player with four years in the league. Hull had 14 tackles in 11 games for the Redskins last year in a special teams role. The 2010 seventh-round pick also played 28 games for the Rams before they cut him at the end of the summer.

His work in St. Louis was mostly on special teams as well, so you’d expect that New England will be asking him to compete for a role on those units in 2014.

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More physicals in Indy for some top prospects

Scott Crichton AP

It seems like the Scouting Combine was forever ago, but some prospects are heading back to Indianapolis for one of the final steps in the pre-draft process.

According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among a group of players going back to Indy for a medical re-check.

Players are given vigorous and thorough examinations at the Combine, and teams view those checks as the main benefit of the event. Any players with red flags then are brought back in for a re-check later.

Crichton had a stinger, which was the reason he has to head back, but said he had no serious neck issues.

Assuming the physical confirms that, Crichton could be a second-round selection.

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