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Bengals agree with Josh Johnson

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The Bengals and free-agent quarterback Josh Johnson have reached a two-year contract agreement, NFL writer Jenna Laine reported Thursday night.

Johnson, 26, has appeared in 27 NFL games, starting five. He will vie for a reserve role behind Andy Dalton. Bruce Gradkowski, the top backup to Dalton last season, has joined Pittsburgh. If Johnson signs on as expected, he will join Zac Robinson as the only two other quarterbacks than Dalton on the roster.

Johnson, who played collegiately at San Diego under then-head coach Jim Harbaugh, was a fifth-round pick of Tampa Bay in 2008. Current Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was an assistant on the Buccaneers’ coaching staff when Johnson entered the league.

Johnson appeared in one game last season, joining the Browns for the season finale after a wave of injuries at quarterback. He played one play, taking a sack on what was Cleveland’s last offensive play of the season.

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Aaron Rodgers: NFL, Packers better off with Jermichael Finley playing

Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley AP

Jermichael Finley’s football future remains cloudy, but the man who used to throw him passes hopes he’ll be back in Green Bay.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers assumed the starting role in 2008, the same year that Finley joined the team, and Finley has 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns for Green Bay since then. Rodgers has spoken to Finley, who is reportedly weighing a decision to return against trying to cash in a $10 million insurance policy after last year’s serious neck injury, and says that the tight end looks great while adding that the Packers (and the entire NFL) would be a better with Finley back on the field.

“This league is better with Jermichael in it and this team is better with him in it,” Rodgers said, via FOXSports.com. “I have had a couple of conversations with him; he looks incredible. If you follow him on Twitter, he looks pretty amazing, and he’s worked his tail off. For him, it’s a matter of getting cleared.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has also said that he’d like to see Finley back with the team throughout the offseason, but things have been in a holding pattern and there’s no sign that a change in the situation is imminent. Until that comes, the discussions about Finley’s impact on the league, the Packers and anything else having to do with football will remain hypotheticals.

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Gordon’s appeal focuses on disparity between “A” and “B” bottle tests

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With the Josh Gordon appeal hearing set for Friday and with Gordon hiring (as Adam Schefter reported last night) the same lawyer who helped Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman avoid a four-game suspension for violation of the PED policy in 2012, Gordon presumably has a case that holds more water than the average bong.

Gordon possibly does, especially if the same spirit of lenience that helped Ray Rice receive a suspension of only two games for knocking out his fiancée applies in any way to Gordon.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Gordon landed in Stage III of the program last year as part of a negotiated two-game suspension for the use of cough syrup that contained codeine.  Once in Stage III, a player never leaves.  And he must pass up to 10 drug tests per month.

According to the source, Gordon has passed at least 70 drug tests.  One test barely generated a positive.  And but for the 50-50 luck of the draw, it would have been a negative.

Urine samples routinely are split into two bottles, the “A” bottle and the “B” bottle.  If the “A” bottle generates a positive result, the “B” bottle is tested.  Amazingly, the “B” bottle doesn’t have to independently show a violation.  Instead, the substance abuse policy states that the “‘B’ bottle Test need only show that the substance, revealed in the ‘A’ bottle Test, is evident to the ‘limits of detection’ to confirm the results of the ‘A’ bottle Test.”

In English, close counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and “B” bottles.

For Gordon, the “A” bottle showed a concentration of 16 ng/ml, only one nanogram per milliliter above the limits of 15.  The “B” bottle showed a concentration of 13.6 ng/ml — less than the threshold.

But because the “A” bottle was labeled “A” and not “B” and because the “B” bottle was labeled “B” and not “A”, the end result is a positive and a minimum one-year banishment from the NFL.  Flip the bottles when it’s time to apply the labels, and Gordon isn’t facing a suspension.

Setting aside (for now) my lingering concerns about the NFL policing the use of marijuana by players, the Draconian provisions of a program that subjects a player to up to 10 tests per month and will remove a Stage III player from the workforce for at least a full year if he failed a single test over the balance of his career, and the NFL’s apparent unwillingness to subject Colts owner Jim Irsay to this same testing protocol and standard, Josh Gordon will be treated extremely unfairly if the policy is strictly applied to him as it is written.

All because the bottle that tested at 16 ng/ml was labeled with an “A and the bottle that tested at 13.6 ng/ml was labeled with a “B”.

The NFL clearly got it wrong with Ray Rice.  The NFL has a chance to get it right with Josh Gordon.

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Brandin Cooks showing screen game, stealing the show

Saints Camp Football AP

The Saints gambled in March when they traded running back Darren Sproles to the Eagles for a draft pick.

But they might have ultimately won, as they found a guy with the same kind of ability to turn small plays into big ones.

According to Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been the star of camp so far, making it clear the Saints are going to build the plan with him in mind.

During Tuesday’s practice, Cooks took a quick bubble screen the distance, and the video of him pulling away from the Saints defense is frankly alarming.

The ability to run more complicated routes will be needed, but the pure speed he showed on the simplest one makes it clear he’s going to be a weapon for Drew Brees soon.

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Whisenhunt says it’s too early for a Titans depth chart

Drew Allen, Ken Whisenhunt AP

The Titans don’t have any starters, any backups, any fourth-stringers just functioning as extra bodies at training camp. Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt says it’s way too early for the Titans to have any depth chart at all.

Whisenhunt told the Tennessean he won’t be releasing a depth chart to the media because he doesn’t even have one himself. He needs time to take a look at every one of his players before he knows who’s likely to be in the starting lineup in Week One.

“I kept coming up with this depth chart that had a bunch of slashes and a bunch of different names on the first line,” he said. “And I said that it’s just not worth doing that and we’ll let it settle out. I told the players . . . ‘Don’t pay attention to the depth chart. You’re going to control that.’ “

Whisenhunt doesn’t want young, inexperienced players to think they’re going to have to back up the veterans.

“Everybody has an opportunity here, and we’re going to play our best guys,” he said.

And July 29 is too early for Whisenhunt to say who his best guys are.

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Andre Reed has very strong words for Bon Jovi

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You know that group hug we suggested earlier today to salvage Jon Bon Jovi’s bid for the Buffalo Bills?  The one with Bon Jovi and Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith and Andre Reed?

It might be a good idea to not invite Reed to the party.

[F]–k Bon Jovi!” Reed tells New York Magazine, via ESPN.com.  “”You might as well just take this city, throw it in the river, and let it go down Niagara Falls.”

We’ll interpret that as a “no” vote from Reed on Bon Jovi’s candidacy to buy the Bills.

Reed will be inducted into the Hall of Fame speech on Saturday night.  Hopefully, he won’t grab the mic and utter similar profanities.

Then again, hopefully he will.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday night, Reed may have given the Buffalo faithful three words that will become the prevailing chant that echoes from Fawcett Stadium out to I-77 when the Bills play the Giants to cap Hall of Fame weekend in Canton.

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Return to camp a short one for Panthers’ Tre Boston

Tre Boston AP

It’s not a good week for the Panthers’ draft class.

First-rounder Kelvin Benjamin scared everyone by needing an MRI (it’s just a minor bone bruise), and then they lost sixth-rounder Tyler Gaffney to a season-ending injury and ultimately the Patriots.

They got fourth-round safety Tre Boston back on the field today, but it wasn’t a long stay.

Boston, who was just activated from the physically unable to perform list after sports hernia surgery, was carted off before the end of practice. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he may have aggravated the injury, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The Panthers brought in veteran safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud this offseason, but were hoping Boston was going to be able to contribute. Now, they have to wait to see when that might be.

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Jets want to give Chris Ivory plenty of goal-line chances

Chris Ivory AP

The Jets are confident — as they are with all things — that Chris Johnson will get plenty of touches and gain plenty of yards.

But he might lose some chances near the goal line to Chris Ivory, for what running backs coach Anthony Lynn said was good reason.

Lynn called Ivory “the best power runner in the game,” which means Rex Ryan might not win the annual award for hyperbole.

“If we were playing tomorrow, Chris Ivory would be on the goal line, obviously,” Lynn said, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. “Sometimes in those situations you have an extra defender that you can’t block, and you need a back that can take him on.”

All exaggerations aside, Ivory has proven himself a tough runner in the past, specifically as a guy who doesn’t go down on first contact.

“Some guys have that unique ability to get skinny in a hole, find a soft spot,” Lynn said of short-yardage backs. “It’s not necessarily a power back.”

So while some might prefer an Adrian Peterson or a Marshawn Lynch, the Jets are going to give Ivory plenty of chances at the goal line, it seems.

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PFT Live: Lions talk with Dave Birkett, PFT Planet calls and tweets

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Lions president Tom Lewand announced Monday that the team was putting a pin in negotiations with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season, a move that raises the chances that Suh will be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press will join Mike Florio on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the Lions’ decision and share his thoughts on how he thinks things will play out once the sides revisit the issue. They’ll also catch up on other developments from Lions camp, including the progress new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is making with the installation of his scheme.

From there, the course is up to PFT Planet. Florio will be answering your questions during the show, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 while things are in progress.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Lardarius Webb’s back injury “lingering a little bit”

Mike Wallace, Lardarius Webb AP

The Ravens shrugged off the severity of cornerback Lardarius Webb’s back injury over the weekend, but the level of concern in Baltimore has gone up after Webb remained out on Monday.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that coach John Harbaugh said that Webb, who was forced out of Friday’s practice, is expected to have further evaluation of the problem in the coming days.

“He’s got some back things that we’re looking at right now,” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “Backs are a little weird. At first, it was no big deal. It’s lingering a little bit, so we’ll find out what’s going on with it.”

Webb bounced back well from a 2012 ACL tear and is slated to start across from Jimmy Smith this season. The Ravens lost Aaron Ross to a torn Achilles and Dominique Franks is on the NFI list, leaving them without much experienced depth at corner right now. That should help some younger players develop, but would be a problem if Webb’s back injury were to linger more than a little bit.

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Watered-down settlement reached in NCAA concussion suit

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NCAA football players get far less compensation than their professional counterparts.  That same dynamic will apply to their respective concussion lawsuits, at least for now.

Via the Associated Press, a pending college football class action has resulted in a settlement.  But the settlement won’t actually pay any benefits.  Instead, it will establish a $70 million fund for testing current and former college athletes for brain injuries.

The lawsuit also creates a uniform policy for returning to play, and it makes baseline neurological testing mandatory.  And, of course, it will pay the lawyers a nice chunk of change.

The class covers all male and female football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, wrestling, field hockey, and lacrosse players.  Current and former players qualify for testing.

While damages won’t be paid, lawsuits may still be filed by those who have injuries.  And the testing could fuel eventual liability.  But unless the settlement says otherwise (and it’s unclear at this point whether it does), the NCAA and any member schools also presumably would be able to advance all available defenses.  In many cases, the question of whether the case was filed within the applicable statute of limitations could be an important threshold argument for the plaintiff to overcome.

Like the NFL concussion settlement, the process now shifts to a federal judge for preliminary approval.  Which, as we learned with the NFL concussion settlement, could take a while.

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Aaron Dobson had screw inserted in foot during March surgery

Aaron Dobson AP

The Patriots continue to wait for wide receiver Aaron Dobson to make his training camp debut and a new detail about his March foot surgery sheds some light on why things are progressing slowly.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports that Dobson had a permanent screw inserted into his left foot to aid in his recovery from a stress fracture. The timetable for that recovery was supposed to be 2-3 months, but Dobson didn’t start running until July and hasn’t advanced to the aggressive planting and cutting that he’ll need to do on the field this season.

There’s no firm timetable for Dobson to make his return as the medical staff waits for signs that he’s not at an increased risk of suffering another injury to the foot. That leaves the offense without a receiver that they’d like to see make a step forward in his second NFL season and it increases the need for Josh Boyce or Kenbrell Thompkins to make that step in their sophomore campaigns.

Dobson is one of four Patriots players on the PUP list right now and he could remain on the list into the regular season if the team doesn’t feel that his foot is sound enough for him to resume playing.

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Lions asked Nick Fairley to lose weight, but 295 is too skinny

nickfairley AP

Not many people who weigh 295 pounds are told that they need to gain weight, but Nick Fairley is not like most people.

Fairley, the Lions defensive tackle who was told by the team that he needed to lose weight this offseason, took his conditioning seriously — and even took the weight-loss thing too far. Fairley slimmed down from more than 320 pounds at the end of last season to 295 pounds during offseason work, and coach Jim Caldwell said the team actually expressed concern to him that he might be getting too small to do the job of an NFL defensive tackle properly. Fairley put on about 10 pounds between the end of Organized Team Activities and the start of training camp, and Caldwell says the Lions now think he’s just the right size.

“We’ve given him a range, his range wasn’t 295, he was far below it at that particular point in time,” he said. “So the concern is a little bit different in that regard.”

Fairley said he thinks 305 is the right weight for a man of his build, although he added that there is more to conditioning than just getting his weight right.

“I think my body is kind of a 305-type of guy,” Fairley said. “I feel great. Of course I have to get into a little more shape but that’s camp. . . . One thing I’m going to harp on this year is being consistent and showing up each and every day.”

The Lions declined to pick up the $5.5 million option on Fairley for the 2015 season, meaning he will be a free agent next year. The Lions thought a contract year would be just that thing to get Fairley motivated, and it appears that they were right. If an in-shape Fairley has a big season, either the Lions or someone else will pay him more than $5.5 million next year.

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NFLPA president gets another NFL gig

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

It took a while, but veteran tackle Eric Winston finally has a new gig.  In addition to being the president of the NFL Players Association.

Winston, per a league source, has signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks.

The move keeps Winston in the NFC West.  Last year, he started all 16 games with the Cardinals.

Winston actually has started all 16 games in every NFL season since 2007.  After appearing in 12 games with seven starts as a Texans rookie in 2006, Winston hasn’t missed a game or a start in seven seasons, five in Houston, one in Kansas City, and one in Arizona.

Earlier this year, Winston became the new president of the NFLPA, despite concerns that players who occupy the position don’t get much play from NFL teams.  It’s likely an unrealistic complaint, given that the NFL typically doesn’t shy away from members of the Executive Committee or Board of Player Representatives.

Seattle lost starting right tackle Breno Giacomini to the Jets in free agency.  By getting to camp early, Winston has a chance to continue that streak of starts.

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Buffalo backlash building against Bon Jovi

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As the deadline arrives on Tuesday for potential buyers of the Bills to formally express interest in acquiring the franchise, one of the biggest names of the bunch faces a building backlash in Buffalo.

As explained by Eric Adelson of Yahoo! Sports, Jon Bon Jovi currently doesn’t have many fans in the city where the Bills currently reside, due to the perception that Bon Jovi’s Toronto-based ownership group would move the team there.

“It’s a big threat,” 49-year-old truck driver Charles Pellien told Adelson. “He’s aligned with guys from Toronto. They’ve got more money than everybody else. We don’t believe they will keep the Bills in Buffalo. Why would they?”

From a perception standpoint, he’s right.  If Bon Jovi were aligned with a group based in Los Angeles, it would be a given that the group wants to move the team there.  With Bon Jovi, a New Jersey native, becoming the front man for Toronto money, it’s impossible to not think that Bon Jovi’s group would move the team to Ontario at the first legal opportunity.

Pellien has organized a grass-roots group to keep Bon Jovi’s group from winning the team.  Coupled with Bon Jovi’s ongoing silence about his plans or intentions, it makes it hard for anyone to believe the reports that Bon Jovi and company intend to keep the team in Buffalo.

“It’s the Buffalo Bills, and they will do everything they can to make that work there,” consultant to the Toronto group recently told the Buffalo News.

Which doesn’t make it any better.

“They will do everything they can to make that work there” possibly means, “They’ll dog paddle in Buffalo, saying all the right until the lease allows them to load up the Mayflowers and declare, ‘Well, we did everything possible to make it work there.  Bye.'”

Bon Jovi, who seems to be doing all the right things behind the scenes to position himself to have a legitimate shot at the team, should have been doing all the right things in front of the scenes, too.  Free concerts.  Donations to local charities.  Other public appearances.  Radio interviews.

For a guy who has made millions and millions working the crowd, he has blown it on this one.  His silence has invited suspicion, and as the suspicion mounts and the silence continues, the suspicion gets even stronger.

At this point, nothing short of a public group hug involving Bon Jovi, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith will commence the process of getting folks in Buffalo to believe that Bon Jovi is buying the Bills not because they’re in Buffalo but because they can be taken, eventually, to Toronto.

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Texans sign a running back

Tim Cornett AP

The Texans haven’t expressed any concern that the hamstring injury that kept running back Arian Foster out of practice on Monday is a big deal, but they have made a move to make sure they aren’t left short at the position in the event things develop in a different way.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans have signed running back Tim Cornett. Cornett signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent this spring, but didn’t last long on the roster in Arizona. Cornett finished his collegiate career as UNLV’s all-time leading rusher and will compete with Dennis Johnson and Alfred Blue for a roster spot behind Foster and Andre Brown.

The Texans also signed offensive tackle Mike Farrell, who played for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State. He spent time with the Broncos and Steelers in 2013.

Houston cleared room on the roster for the new arrivals by releasing linebacker Ricky Sapp and making procedural moves with injured guard Cody White and wide receiver Alan Bonner. White tore his Achilles and Bonner injured his leg during training camp practices.

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