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Report: Hernandez not ruled out as suspect in murder case

Hernandez Police Football AP

As a small army of news organizations chases the Aaron Hernandez story, there will be conflicting and, necessarily, incorrect reports.

Our goal will in part be to sift through those reports, making sure you know what the various outlets have uncovered.

And I say all of that because the latest report will raise some eyebrows and/or drop some jaws.  According to Karen Anderson of WBZ-TV in Boston, Hernandez has not been ruled out as a suspect in the death of an “associate” found roughly a mile from his North Attleboro home.  Anderson also reports that Hernandez currently is not cooperating with authorities.  (There had been conflicting reports as to whether Hernandez was initially uncooperative.)

Anderson cites a single unnamed law-enforcement source for both pieces of information.  Without knowing who the source is, how the source knows what the source knows, and whether the source has an agenda, it’s impossible to assess the accuracy of the report.

WBZ-TV also reports that the victim is Odin Lloyd, 27, of Dorcester.  Odin played semi-pro football with the Boston Bandits.

His body was found by a jogger, who told WBZ-TV that when police arrived they said it appeared Odin had been shot somewhere else and dumped in the industrial park roughly a mile from Hernandez’s home.

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Story of James Wright testament to LSU’s sheer talent, Bengals’ scouting

James Wright AP

Odell Beckham Jr. Jeremy Hill. Zach Mettenberger. Jarvis Landry. La’El Collins. Alfred Blue.

All were contributors on offense for LSU two years ago, and all have spots in the NFL. Beckham, the Giants’ leading receiver as a rookie, is already a superstar, while Landry hauled in 84 passes for Miami. Hill, meanwhile, emerged as the Bengals’ featured back down the stretch.

However, another member of that 2013 LSU offense is also quietly trying to make a name for himself: second-year Bengals wide receiver James Wright, a seventh-round pick of Cincinnati in 2014 despite not catching a single pass in his final collegiate season.

In a story published Friday, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com noted that Wright’s blocking, special teams play, pro day workout and pre-draft visit were key in Cincinnati’s decision to take a flier on the wideout, who hauled in just 25 passes for 304 yards and no TDs in four seasons in Baton Rouge.

And the move appears to have worked out well.

The 23-year-old Wright played in 11 games for Cincinnati as a rookie, catching five passes before suffering a season-ending knee injury. However, he was back for OTAs this week, and he is seeing time at all of the WR spots, per the club’s website.

“I have a lot of trust in James with his speed, athleticism and toughness,” Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson told Bengals.com. “He knows how to play. He knows what to do. He does it with confidence.”

And he appears to be proof that if you do your job well, no matter where it is on the field, the NFL might just take notice.

The Bengals particularly might be paying attention, given their thorough scouting of an LSU team with so much starpower right at the surface.

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Packers will keep Clay Matthews moving on defense

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Clay Matthews had to learn to play inside linebacker on the fly last year when the Packers stuck him there in the middle of the season for a game against the Bears, but Matthews handled the move well enough that it remains part of the team’s plans for the 2015 season as well.

Matthews and Sam Barrington were playing inside with the first team during Thursday’s organized team activity and Matthews says that the practice time has him “actually learning why I’m doing certain things” at the position. The Packers are quick to say that they aren’t going to play Matthews exclusively at that spot, however, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers said the plan is to keep offenses on their toes.

“It makes it harder for people to prepare for you,” Capers said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’ve tried to do that since we’ve been here….I felt at the time we drafted him, watching him work, that he’d be a Pro Bowler outside, inside. It didn’t make a difference where you put him: he was going to have a significant impact.”

Matthews had 8.5 of his 11 sacks in the second half of last season, so the trips inside didn’t neutralize his ability to get after the quarterback. Matthews said he viewed the shift as playing the same position at “two different spots” and it looks like something that the team’s opponents will have to be ready for again in 2015.

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Fully-guaranteed contracts could cause problems for teams, players

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It’s easy to say that NFL contracts should be fully guaranteed. In theory, every player should want that.

In practice, fully-guaranteed contracts could create plenty of problems, both for teams and for players. Especially for younger players trying either to get a job or to get paid a fair salary.

Assume, for example, that Adrian Peterson’s contract were fully guaranteed through 2017. With $12.75 million committed this year, $14.75 million committed next year, and $16.75 million committed in 2017, the Vikings would have far less flexibility to pay other players under the hard-cap system the NFL uses.

And if Peterson’s skills were to suddenly decline in 2015, the Vikings would be stuck with a guy who is no longer earning his keep, but in turn unable to properly compensate the player(s) who would be carrying the load on his behalf.

The truth is that if the NFL had fully-guaranteed contracts, the Vikings never would have loaded so much money into the last two years of the Peterson deal. The contract either would have been shorter in duration, or it would have paid out far fewer dollars beyond the running back witching hour of his 30th birthday.

Having NFL contracts that aren’t fully guaranteed ensures that the game will remain closer to a meritocracy, with the best players getting the most money and earning the playing time. If/when those players are no longer earning the playing time, they’ll no longer be getting the dollars. Which is how the system currently works.

Already, too many players who don’t deserve to be in the starting lineup up get those spots at least in part to justify their contracts and/or their draft status. Fully-guaranteed contracts would give teams another reason to keep trotting out a player who may no longer be better than his backup, because if the highly-paid player with the guaranteed contract isn’t playing, the fans and the media will have another reason to lobby the owner to fire the guy who signed the player to that contract in the first place.

In a cap-driven system, fully-guaranteed contracts can become as problematic as the pre-2011 system for paying guys taken at the top of the draft. Previously, unproven players who never became contributors sucked millions out of the system that could have gone to players who deserve it. Fully-guaranteed contracts would potentially do the same thing on the back end of a career, allowing a player who isn’t what he used to be to coast to the finish line, collecting checks that otherwise should go to the guys who are getting the job done.

With an ever-growing cap and a spending minimum that keeps pushing higher and higher, the players will get paid. It’s better for the players who are contributing to get paid. Fully-guaranteed contracts could keep that from happening.

With fully-guaranteed contracts, some teams would likely insist on shorter-term deals. And that would give players more flexibility to change teams or to get more money. But it also would make it harder for players to receive a major, multi-year, life-changing contract, because teams won’t want to put huge dollars into a contract if the team has no way out if the player isn’t earning money that could otherwise go to someone who is.

Non-guaranteed contracts give players who have gotten past the guaranteed portion of the contract a clear reason to keep working hard and to keep fending off the guy who is trying to take his job. If every year of the salary is guaranteed, the player at some point could lose his edge — and the team would be paying a lot of money to a guy who simply isn’t earning it.

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Steve Smith: I won’t be playing at 40

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith never gave serious thought to retirement this offseason after catching 79 passes for 1,065 yards in 2014, but he has given some thought to when he might bring his playing days to an end.

Smith turned 36 this month and he said Thursday that he can see the finish line coming in the next few years. As Smith explained, he doesn’t plan to follow Jerry Rice’s lead and play until he’s 42 years old.

“Jerry Rice is obviously the greatest wide receiver to ever play, and I really don’t have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest,” Smith said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I have got a lot of things on my to-do list that don’t have anything to do with football. I’m going to take it day by day, but I will not be playing until I’m 40.”

Smith remained productive last season, but he did average six more yards per catch in the first half of the season than he did in the second half, which may explain why coach John Harbaugh has talked about limiting the veteran’s snaps in 2015. That may not be the easiest thing to pull off given the makeup of the receiving corps, which added Breshad Perriman while losing Torrey Smith and doesn’t have anyone with anything close to Smith’s track record as a reliable target.

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Andy Reid claims nothing’s wrong with Eric Fisher

ericfisher AP

Eric Fisher has gone from first overall pick to second string, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid says there’s nothing to worry about.

Fisher, the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft, has not played well in his first two NFL seasons. So when Fisher worked with the second-string offense at Organized Team Activities on Thursday, that looked like a strong signal that the Chiefs are disappointed with his development.

Reid, however, says he just wanted to see how 2012 third-round pick Donald Stephenson looked running with the first-string offense.

“That’s the only way you can get Donald some reps there,” Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. “We want to make sure we’ve got everybody covered. Actually, Fish has done a very nice job, so I wouldn’t read anything into that. We’re staying consistent.”

Reid is trying to put a positive spin on it, but the reality is, when you spend the first overall pick on a player, you hope he’s so firmly established as a starter by his third year that the idea of him taking second-team reps at OTAs would sound silly. With Fisher, it sounds reasonable. He hasn’t played like the franchise left tackle Kansas City wants him to be.

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Friday morning one-liners

Buffalo Bills v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

CB Leodis McKelvin likes the schematic changes to the Bills Defense.

Before heading to the Dolphins, Mike Tannenbaum helped Steve Kerr and David Blatt land the coaching jobs that have them in the NBA Finals.

Rookies Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are trying to earn roles on the Patriots defensive line.

A critical take on the Jets’ handling of their quarterbacks.

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith says he’s ahead of schedule in his return from a foot injury.

S Shawn Williams has a chance to land a bigger role for the Bengals.

Rookie RB Duke Johnson wasn’t at Browns OTAs this week.

James Harrison hopes he can help younger Steelers linebackers reach their potential.

Texans DL Louis Nix III wants to emulate new teammate Vince Wilfork.

The Colts are looking for the right center to snap the ball to Andrew Luck.

Jaguars DE Dante Fowler had surgery to repair his torn ACL on Thursday.

WR Hakeem Nicks is trying to return to the good old days with the Titans.

Broncos players responded to the news of T Ryan Clady’s torn ACL.

The Chiefs are excited about their pass rushing potential.

A numerical breakdown of Raiders S Charles Woodson’s career.

Chargers CB Jason Verrett is from the Bay Area and has a tattoo of the Golden Gate Bridge, but won’t be rooting for the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

RB Ryan Williams is looking for redemption in the Cowboys backfield.

Giants WR Odell Beckham is branching out into radio.

Said Eagles QB Mark Sanchez, “You act like you’re the starter, and that’s the only way I know how to play. As soon as you start thinking and counting reps, or ‘I wonder if this guy is going to be healthy,’ then you’re already beat.”

Redskins S Duke Ihenacho tapes his cleats to look like Chuck Taylors.

Jeremiah Ratliff is willing to play wherever the Bears want him on the defensive line.

DT Caraun Reid is making a bid for playing time up front for the Lions.

QB Aaron Rodgers isn’t expecting any big changes to the Packers Offense.

Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is looking forward to playing with a healthy TE Kyle Rudolph.

DL Tyson Jackson has cut weight in hopes of making a bigger contribution to the Falcons.

The Panthers are getting a glimpse of WR Stephen Hill’s potential.

The Saints and Cam Jordan continue to talk about an extension.

The Buccaneers aren’t concerned about WR Mike Evans after a hamstring tweak.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said rookie T D.J. Humphries has been progressing slowly.

The Rams are banking on better things from the same set of wide receivers.

CB Dontae Johnson could play a bigger role in his second season with the 49ers.

Seahawks sixth-round OL Kristjan Sokoli is blazing a previously untravelled trail from Albania to the NFL.

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Hard Knocks could keep Texans from luring practice partners

Texans Getty Images

The Texans have agreed, perhaps a bit reluctantly, to serve as the featured act on Hard Knocks. And the Texans could have a hard time finding a team to agree to practice with them this year.

The Texans and Saints had planned to work out together prior to their exhibition game in August. On Thursday, Saints coach Sean Payton said that won’t be happening.

Asked whether the decision to not practice with the Texans had anything to do with the appearance on Hard Knocks, Payton attributed the decision to the fact that the Saints will be working out with the Patriots.

“We discussed and talked about a second team, really the decision was more about getting back into a schedule here and then certainly recognizing the fact that they are going to be featured on Hard Knocks, but it was really about our team and what is best for us,” Payton told reporters on Thursday.

While Payton made it clear that the decision primarily arises from a desire to practice with only one other team, some in the media (such as John McClain of the Houston Chronicle) have interpreted Payton’s remarks as partially attributing the development to Hard Knocks.

More and more teams in recent years have devoted a portion of training camp to working out with other teams. Last year, the Texans worked out with both the Falcons and Broncos. And the practice sessions between the Falcons and Texans got more than a little chippy, possibly because the NFL Films cameras and microphones were there as part of Atlanta’s role as the Hard Knocks team.

Practice fights may make for good TV, but it doesn’t necessarily make for good football practice, especially when the goal is to emerge from practice with as many healthy players as possible.

For the Texans, it means that they’ll go from having a pair of joint practice partners in 2014 to none in 2015. And even though the NFL can now twist arms to get a team to serve as the focal point of Hard Knocks, the NFL can’t force other teams to go along for the ride.

Yet.

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Saints happy to have healthy safeties in OTAs this year

Terrance West, Jairus Byrd AP

The Saints made one big offseason acquisition in the secondary this year when they signed cornerback Brandon Browner, but it feels like they actually have a pair of new additions.

Safety Jairus Byrd, last year’s free agent splash, had back surgery that kept him from practicing in the offseason and then landed on injured reserve with a knee injury four games into the regular season. Byrd is participating fully in OTAs this year, though, and coach Sean Payton said that’s a step in the right direction for the defense.

“I think it is significant,” Payton said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He is in good shape now and working through. There are still some maintenance things he is doing with his knee and yet to get out here, for all of these guys, but specifically a player like him [it’s important]. … I think it is also beneficial to the other 10 guys when you are talking about a veteran playing like him with regards to calls, with regards to communication and leadership.”

The Saints also have safety Kenny Vaccaro on the field after he was limited last spring while coming off a fractured ankle. Vaccaro struggled on the field in 2014 and said Thursday his year was also negatively impacted by injuries, but thinks things are coming together for him and Byrd.

“Jairus has rehabbed well and we’re meshing together,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve been working this whole offseason together. It’s been fun. You’ve got to work off each other. The secondary has to work like glue. You’ve got to stick together. I think that’s what we’re building.”

The Saints Defense needs to be better across the board in 2015, a goal that will be easier to attain if they are more secure in the back end. Byrd and Vaccaro will be a big part of that, which makes their presence on the field a big plus in New Orleans.

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Jordy Nelson not practicing, but not worried after hip surgery

Jordy Nelson AP

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson needed to have hip surgery earlier this offseason and coach Mike McCarthy said in late March that the receiver would be “fine” in a couple of weeks.

It’s now late May, but Nelson hasn’t started practicing with the team. He was stretching and throwing the ball on the sideline during Thursday’s OTA and said after practice that there wasn’t a timetable for when he’ll be back to full speed, although he added that there was also no major concern as the season draws closer.

“Not necessarily,” Nelson said, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We’re just going to continue to progress going forward. Like I said, we’re excited where we’re at and don’t have any worries about anything that’s of importance down the road.”

If Nelson is feeling well enough to get on the field before training camp, that would probably suit the Packers fine. There’s plenty of time for him to be sure all is well before camp and little reason for a veteran of his significance to the team to push things before that point, however.

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Michael Oher fitting in nicely as the Panthers’ latest left tackle

Michael Oher AP

So wait, what you’re telling me is that Michael Oher just wanted someone to take him in, to make him feel like part of the family? Sounds like a movie.

But the Panthers new left tackle was simply talking about his new team, as he tries to fit in at the most important position on the offensive line.

It seemed like they wanted me,” Oher said of the Panthers, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “I got the [same] feeling going into my rookie year of not wanting to let guys down and guys with a winning culture.

“For me, it’s about getting back to the basics and fundamentals of doing everything right. Looking myself in the mirror knowing what I have to do and getting better from within.”

The Panthers need him to get back to when he was a good tackle, because he’s their third left tackle in as many years, and last year’s experiment (Byron Bell) was kind of a disaster.

But the Panthers are counting on Oher being healthy (after a toe problem bothered him last year with the Titans) and his old Ravens position coach (John Matsko) getting him back to his previous level of stability.

“Knowing the two of them have a positive relationship, they’ve worked well together,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He worked very well for coach Matsko, and then at the end of the day he wanted to be here. That’s one of the things that he told us that impressed us. He said he wanted to be here and needed to improve and work on certain things and get back on track.

“Just hearing that from a player, and then watching him after he signed his contract. He was here and he’s been here since; that’s very pleasing.”

Probably mostly so to Cam Newton, who did too much running for his life last year, and could use someone to keep him upright so he could work on passing from a pocket.

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Tim Tebow enjoying his next last chance to make NFL mark

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 28: Tim Tebow #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field after OTA's on May 28, 2015 at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

Being two years out of the league, Tim Tebow’s not about to take any opportunity for granted.

So even if he’s a bit of a curiosity, and no better than third on the Eagles’ depth chart, he’s still all smiles.

“I think sometimes when things are taken away, then you don’t realize how much fun it is to come out here and play this game,” Tebow said, via Nate Davis of USA Today. “You can’t play it forever, so I’m going to enjoy it.”

While many thought he was done after his training camp stint with the Patriots two years ago, he said he continued to train as if his next chance was coming any day. As for competition, he said a family gathering provided that.

“I still competed. I trained every single day,” he said. “You should have seen the Tebow Turkey Bowl. It was the craziest thing ever.

“I’m serious. We had uniforms.”

He said he thought his offseason work with quarterback tutor Tom House had helped, specifically mentioning his balance, posture and timing.

“I think he’s improved,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s had a lot of time the last two years working at his game. [We] wanted to have a fourth quarterback here.”

Kelly also said Tebow’s only there as a quarterback, scuttling any idea of a position switch. And with his proposal to move two-point conversions to the 1-yard line voted down, keeping him around for that job might not be as important as it might have been.

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Jameis Winston impressing with his work ethic in Bucs camp

TAMPA, FL - MAY 9: Quarterback Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out during Rookie Mini Camp at One Buccaneer Place on May 9, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers have found their first issue with quarterback Jameis Winston, already running into something he struggles with.

We have to kind of tell him when to leave,” Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said, via Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.

That’s not a bad problem to have for any rookie, much less the first overall pick in the draft. While he wasn’t at Thursday’s practice because of the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event in Los Angeles, getting in enough work hasn’t been an issue.

Smith said he took double reps Wednesday to make up for the absence, and it was his best day of work so far (or perhaps since his marathon pro day workout prior to the draft).

“For him, there’s been a lot of individual work, but having a chance this week to go against our best defense and things like that [has been good],” Smith said. “We have a long ways to go. But we like where he is right now.”

Likewise, teammates have praised Winston for his work, and for always having his playbook on him, and being ready for whatever they throw at him, which has been a lot.

“He didn’t have his training wheels on or anything like that,” Smith said. “We’re kind of throwing him out there and he’s handling just about everything we’ve asked him to do.”

That’s a good sign for the Bucs, but a better sign for Winston, whose maturity many (reasonably) wondered about based on some of his college actions.

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Timing of Clady injury gives Broncos ample time to react

Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady, Rob Ninkovich AP

Two years ago, the Broncos lost left tackle Ryan Clady for the year in Week Two. They made it to the Super Bowl.

Sure, they could have used him against Seattle in the Super Bowl, but the Broncos nevertheless had a very successful season with Clady not contributing much to it. And they had to react to Clady’s absence on the fly, with no time to do anything other than call the next man up.

In 2013, Chris Clark got the assignment. And Clark is still on the team, able to do now what he did then — with a lot more time to prepare for the assignment.

Veteran Ryan Harris, who signed with the Broncos in the immediate aftermath of the Clady injury, can handle the right side, and youngsters Michael Schofield and Ty Sambrailo can compete for reps and provide depth.

Of course, the fact that the latest Clady injury happened in May could prompt a certain quarterback who may be entering the last year of his career to clamor for one or more 2016 draft picks to be dangled in an effort to upgrade the position, especially since said quarterback may not be around when those picks would be used.

Still, it’s much better to have time to react to a major injury. The Broncos did well to replace Clady when they didn’t have that luxury. They’ll now be expected to do it again.

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Ishmaa’ily Kitchen signs restricted tender with Browns

Ish Kitchen Getty Images

Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen signed his restricted free agent tender with the team on Thursday.

The Browns placed a right of first refusal tender on Kitchen prior to the start of free agency in March. The tender is worth $1.542 million for the 2015 season.

Kitchen appeared in 12 games for Cleveland and made three starts while playing primarily at nose tackle. He recorded 43 tackles for the season. In his three-year career, Kitchen has played in 40 games for the Browns.

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Confusion emerges regarding basis for Hardy discipline

Hardy Getty Images

The Greg Hardy appeal hearing has come and gone, and confusion has emerged regarding one of the most important aspects of the case.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hardy and the NFL Players Association contend that the NFL failed to specify during the hearing whether league imposed on Hardy a 10-game suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy in force at the time of the alleged misconduct or under the version that came later in the year, following the Ray Rice debacle. Hardy and the NFLPA also contend that arbitrator Harold Henderson failed to force the NFL to say which version of the policy was used.

In an appearance last month on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash seemed to emphasize that the discipline was imposed under the old policy. But he also made it clear that the investigation occurred under the new procedures that were adopted after the Rice case.

The alleged confusion also comes in the wake of an effort by the union to have the NFL deemed to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court order issued in the case filed on behalf of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. That motion specifically claims that the league applied the new policy retroactively to Hardy, in defiance of the ruling from Judge David Doty to the contrary in Peterson’s case.

Absent a significant reduction in Hardy’s suspension, a lawsuit is inevitable in his case, too. And Hardy could easily win.

But no one would be able to accuse the NFL of going too soft on off-field misconduct. Given that the Rice situation nearly took down a Commissioner, the NFL will never be accused of going too soft on off-field misconduct ever again.

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