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Feds allege Pilot Flying J has engaged in “fraud” for 5-7 years

Haslam AP

It’s really hard to be a Browns fan.

Three days ago, the FBI and IRS raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the company run by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III and founded by his father in 1958.  On Tuesday, Haslam downplayed the issue in a session with the media, calling it a minor issue involving a “very insignificant number” of customer rebates, involving no tax violations.

The federal government disagrees.  Strongly.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, documents filed in court on Thursday allege that Pilot Flying J engaged in fraud aimed at keeping money owed as rebates for “many years.”

And it gets worse.  The federal government alleges that Jimmy Haslam knew about the practice, which “targeted unsophisticated trucking companies.”

A 120-page affidavit contends that the scheme was in place for five to seven years, and that one company lost nearly $150,000 because of it.  The affidavit refers to a “confidential informant” who blew the whistle on the company’s practices — and on Haslam’s knowledge of the alleged scheme.

The investigation began in May 2011, well before Haslam launched his effort to purchase the Browns.  Whether and to what extent the league was aware of the situation when approving the transaction isn’t currently known.

Haslam abruptly returned to Pilot Flying J as CEO in February, only months after former PepsiCo president John Compton took the job.  It’s now fair to infer whether Compton stepped down once he caught wind of what was going on.

It’s also fair to wonder how this will play out.  Eddie DeBartolo lost ownership of the 49ers after pleading guilty to failing to report an extortion attempt in Louisiana, which triggered a one-year suspension by the NFL.  If Haslam ultimately pleads guilty to or is convicted of any crime, the Browns could once again be changing hands.

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Antonio Brown gets $2 million moved from 2016 to this year

Antonio Brown AP

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said recently that the team would not break from tradition to revisit wide receiver Antonio Brown’s contract this year.

Brown signed a six-year, $43 million deal with the Steelers before the 2012 season and approached the team this offseason about altering it to get himself more money. Colbert met with Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus, but said that Brown’s contract would remain unchanged.

That wasn’t quite right. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Tuesday that the Steelers restructured Brown’s contract and Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reports that the restructure involved moving $2 million of his 2016 salary into a bonus this year.

It’s a raise for Brown this year and, along with restructures of tight end Heath Miller and kicker Shaun Suisham, helps the Steelers gain $6 million in cap room. Per Schefter, that money will be used to offset the money they’ll be spending on injured players this year.

PFT has confirmed the restructuring and that Brown is happy to be the player that got the Steelers to change their philosophy on reopening a deal for a non-quarterback with more than a year left.

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Would the NFL appeal a two-game Brady suspension?

Richard Berman AP

It’s become a given that Judge Richard M. Berman doesn’t have the option to impose anything less than a four-game suspension on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Technically, that’s accurate.

As a practical matter, Judge Berman can reduce the suspension to two games, explaining that he has decided to deem the four-game suspension as two for “general awareness” (or whatever) of the alleged deflation scheme and two for failure to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation. Sure, he’d be susceptible to a reversal on appeal.

But what if no one appeals?

Tom Brady, if suspended two games for failure to cooperate at a time when he’s reportedly willing to accept at least one game for that infraction and exonerated on the question of whether he should be suspended for the deflation-related activities, could be inclined to accept the two games and move on. Which means that the case would be over — unless the NFL appeals.

At that point, would the NFL appeal? More specifically, would the NFL allow itself to be responsible for prolonging a case that the fans want to see end, when the NFL can legitimately claim partial victory and retreat?

From a legal perspective, the NFL would have a strong argument on appeal, arguing that Judge Berman has no right to chop the suspension in half and that it’s an all-or-nothing decision. From a P.R. perspective, the NFL possibly would be criticized heavily for not accepting a middle ground and moving on.

So maybe, just maybe, Judge Berman will technically get it wrong, but ultimately get to the right solution.

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Jets place Jace Amaro on injured reserve

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Jets had high hopes for tight end Jace Amaro as a receiver in his second NFL season, but they were put on ice Tuesday.

Amaro has been placed on injured reserve and will have surgery on the shoulder injury that’s kept him out of action this summer. The move strips the Jets of a target for Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Geno Smith and robs Bills coach Rex Ryan of two chances to face Amaro after the tight end was critical of Ryan this offseason for the lack of accountability on the Jets last season.

Amaro had 38 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis are the veteran tight ends left on the roster, which may lead the Jets to look for another receiving option at the position as cuts are made this week.

The Jets also placed veteran defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson on injured reserve and waived cornerback Dashaun Phillips with an injured designation.

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NFL turns Media Day into “Super Bowl Opening Night”

Super Bowl Media Day Getty Images

If you thought the hype surrounding the Super Bowl couldn’t possibly get any more overdone, think again.

The NFL has announced that it is shifting the long-standing Media Day, which always took place on Tuesday in the late morning or early afternoon, into “Super Bowl Opening Night,” a primetime extravaganza on the Monday night of Super Bowl week.

Super Bowl Opening Night will be a three-hour show at the SAP Center in San Jose, starting at 5 p.m. Pacific on Monday, February 1. In addition to appearances from the players and coaches on the two Super Bowl teams, the event will also feature musical performances.

The league is selling tickets to fans, but this is mostly about creating more Super Bowl week content for NFL Network. And although plenty of people will roll their eyes at the idea, it’s sure to get good ratings. Fans have an insatiable appetite for football, especially during Super Bowl week.

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Report: Randall Cobb expected to be ready for regular season

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptdkzjewntnizgywotljnzllytmzmmnmyme2ztfimgy4 AP

The Packers lost one of their starting wide receivers to a preseason injury, but it appears their other one is going to be fine.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, all indications are that Packers wideout Randall Cobb’s shoulder injury won’t prevent him from playing in the opener against the Bears.

After losing Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL, the Packers couldn’t afford to lose Cobb for any amount of time.

Cobb’s coming off a career season of his own (91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns) and was rewarded with a new contract before he hit free agency.

Now, there’s even more pressure on him to deliver, as the Packers try to bring along the next generation of young wideouts.

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Panthers put Kelvin Benjamin on IR; waive Melvin White, Robert Lester

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Panthers have reached the 75-man limit with a series of moves on Tuesday afternoon.

Some of the moves were expected, like placing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on injured reserve as a result of the torn ACL he suffered in August. The team also confirmed that they have parted ways with wideout Jarrett Boykin after swinging a deal with the Seahawks for Kevin Norwood.

The Panthers also waived cornerback Melvin White and safety Robert Lester. White, who has an injured designation after hurting his hamstring, made 17 starts over the last two seasons but lost his job with the first team last year. Lester played a lot in 2013, but only saw action in one game last year while also spending time on the practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Presley, defensive tackle Kenny Horsley, tackle Davonte Wallace and defensive tackle Micanor Regis were also waived.

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James Harrison says old pal Goodell will win fight vs. Brady

James Harrison, Art Rooney II AP

James Harrison has never been afraid to speak out against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but when Harrison was asked by reporters about DeflateGate and Goodell’s court battle vs. Tom Brady and the Patriots, Harrison said he believes Brady’s four-game suspension will be upheld.

Because the Steelers play the Patriots Sept. 10 in the season opener, the result of the proceedings are of particular interest to Harrison. But the 37-year old linebacker had no personal feelings involved when he shared his viewpoint.

“I don’t see what a federal judge can do with something the players signed in the collective bargaining agreement, which gives Roger Goodell (power) to do what he wants to,” Harrison said. “And if that’s the case and he’s going by the letter of what he says, there’s nothing (a judge) can do.”

Monday, federal judge Richard Berman pledged to rule by Friday on Brady’s challenge of his four-game suspension after talks between Brady’s representatives and the NFL failed to reach a settlement.

Harrison and Goodell have quite a history, both of face to face meetings regarding fines that have totaled $150,000 and of Harrison publicly criticizing Goodell. Harrison called Goodell a “crook” and “devil” in a 2011 magazine interview and last year took to Twitter and needled Goodell for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

“If (Goodell) was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it,” Harrison told Men’s Journal in 2011. “I hate him and will never respect him.”

Harrison tweeted last September, when he considered himself retired, that Steelers players voted against the new CBA in 2011.

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Report: Patriots to put James Develin on season-ending IR

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwi4nmnjodqynwewntq4m2e4mtyxotvkmtvlymywoty2 AP

The Patriots lost one of Bill Belichick’s favorite players last week in Charlotte, and it will be a season-ending loss.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, versatile tight end/fullback James Develin will be placed on injured reserve today.

Develin broke his tibia Friday night against the Panthers, and stayed behind to have surgery there.

He met with Patriots officials yesterday, and they decided today to put him on season-ending IR rather than use the designated for return spot on him.

The injury was originally thought to keep him out for six to eight weeks, but they may have realized it was taking longer than that, or the team just wanted to use that spot otherwise.

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Akeem Spence to PUP as Bucs get to 75 players

Akeem Spence, Andy Dalton AP

There wasn’t a chance that the Buccaneers would have defensive tackle Akeem Spence for the first week of the season after he was suspended by the league for violating the substance abuse policy.

They won’t have him for at least the five weeks after that either. Spence started camp on the physically unable to perform list when camp opened and announced Tuesday that he’ll remain there into the regular season.

Spence had 28 tackles and two sacks in 16 appearances for Tampa last season.

The Bucs also waived/injured guard Josh Allen, wide receiver Robert Herron and cornerback Leonard Johnson. All three will revert to injured reserve if they go unclaimed on waivers.

Punter Michael Koenen was released earlier on Tuesday and the Bucs made 10 other moves over the weekend to get to the 75-man limit.


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Bengals place Cedric Ogbuehi on non-football injury list

Cedric Ogbuehi AP

The Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi knowing he wasn’t ready to contribute immediately.

Now it’s official, as the rookie tackle was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list as part of their moves to get to the 75-man roster limit. They also placed linebacker Sean Porter on reserve/physically unable to perform and waived-injured wide receiver Onterio McCalebb, and he’ll revert to injured reserve if he clears waivers.

Ogbuehi suffered a torn ACL in Texas A&M’s bowl game, which was going to keep him from taking the field immediately this year. But they think he can contribute at some point, so they left the window open for him to come back after the first six weeks of the season.

The Bengals chose him knowing he’d likely redshirt this season behind Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, with second-round tackle Jake Fisher providing even more depth there now that he’s back from a shoulder injury.

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49ers coach says Dockett does not have cracked rib

Darnell-Dockett1a Getty Images

The rib injury suffered by 49ers defensive tackle Darnell Dockett in last weekend’s preseason game vs. the Broncos is not believed to be serious.

Tuesday, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Dockett has a cartilage issue, not a cracked rib, and Tomsula said he expects Dockett to be available for the Sept. 14 season opener.

Dockett posted a picture on Snapchat Monday while receiving treatment and called it a cracked rib.

Dockett, 34, did not play last season after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason while he was with the Cardinals. He’s expected to be a rotational player on the remade 49ers defense.

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Dennis Pitta starting year on PUP list

Keith Wenning, Dennis Pitta AP

The Ravens are down to a 75-man roster and tight end Dennis Pitta isn’t one of them.

Pitta has been placed on the regular season physically unable to perform list Tuesday as he continues to try for a comeback from last year’s dislocated and fractured hip. It’s the second time that Pitta has suffered the injury and may not play again, but the Ravens have no reason to move on at this point with $4 million in guaranteed money coming Pitta’s way this year.

The Ravens also placed safety Matt Elam, linebacker Steven Means, cornerback Chris Greenwood, offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin and tight end Allen Reisner on injured reserve.

They completed their roster cutdown by releasing wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, offensive lineman Marcel Jones, wide receiver Trent Steelman, guard Leon Brown, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley, tackle Darryl Baldwin, cornerback Tramain Jacobs, punter Justin Manton, and long snapper Patrick Scales.

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PFT Live: Seahawks talk with Bob Condotta, Patriots talk with Tom Curran

Tom Brady AP

The wait for Judge Richard Berman’s ruling in the Tom Brady case is on and we’ll fill some of the time by talking about the possible outcomes on PFT Live.

Tom Curran of CSN New England will join Mike Florio to discuss the failure of the NFL and Brady to reach a settlement that would have left Berman out of the resolution and how they think things will go when the judge does rule. They’ll check in on other Patriots news as well.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times will also join the show to talk about the team’s first wave of cuts, Fred Jackson’s visit and the offensive stumbles in the preseason.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time 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 by clicking right here.


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Dolphins make a change at punter

Brandon Fields AP

The Dolphins have moved to the 75-man roster limit by parting ways with longtime punter Brandon Fields.

Fields has been released after an eight-year run with the team that featured a Pro Bowl appearance after the 2013 season. Fields took a pay cut this offseason to lessen a scheduled cap hit north of $3 million, but it wasn’t enough to allow him to keep his job with the team this season.

Matt Darr is the only punter currently on the Dolphins roster and will fill the role into the regular season if Miami doesn’t look for other options in the next week.

The Dolphins also cut running back Demetrius Bronson to get to Tuesday’s limit. There will be 22 more moves to come before the team sets its initial 53-man roster.

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Saints trade wideout Jalen Saunders to the Patriots

Indianapolis Colts v New York Jets Getty Images

The Patriots continue to look under every rock for healthy receiver options, and just traded for a guy they got an up-close look at recently.

According to Evan Woodbery of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints have traded receiver-return man Jalen Saunders to the Patriots for a conditional draft pick.

As with most such deals this time of year, this gives a guy who might not have otherwise made a roster a chance with a team that has a greater need for his services. Generally, the condition is “make the 53-man roster,” which makes it a free week’s tryout.

The Patriots and Saints practiced together in West Virginia before breaking camp, so Bill Belichick had a chance to scout Saunders in person.

The Saints appear intent on keeping rookie running back Marcus Murphy as their return man, which left Saunders on the bubble.

The former Jets fourth-rounder now gets to return to the AFC East, where the Patriots have been looking for upgrades and healthy wideouts. They just signed veteran Reggie Wayne, after injuries left them thin through the preseason.

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