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Kaepernick defiant about Dolphins hat

Kaepernick AP

On Friday, photos emerged of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing a Dolphins hat.  It created a stir on a fairly slow news day, but nothing all that major.

And then Kaepernick decided to defiantly defend his decision to wear the hat, making a minor blip into a much bigger story.

This the hat y’all mad at?” Kaeperick said on his Instagram account.   “I’m goin wear what I want regardless of what you think, all you need to worry about is the fact that I grind for my teammates and the 49ers!  I plan on doin this until they won’t let me in the building!  #ridiculous#y’allmustbebored.”

They’re not bored, Colin.  They’re fans.

No true fan wants to see any member of the fan’s favorite team wearing another team’s colors.  And no true fan wants to be lectured by the player who commits one of the few cardinal sins of sports.

In some cities with multiple pro sports teams, it’s bad enough for a player from one sport to wear the logo and colors of a rival team in a completely different sport.  In Pittsburgh, for example, former Pirates outfielder Barry Bonds created a signifiant pre-Internet stir by wearing a Los Angeles Kings jacket.  More recently, LeBron James wore a Yankees hat to an Indians game when James played for the Cavaliers.

Here, the 49ers quarterback brazenly wore a hat reflecting the name and logo of another NFL team.  While it would be far worse if it were a Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, or Ravens hat, it’s enough to get 49ers fans worked up — and Kaepernick’s response won’t help matters.

Speaking of the Seahawks, can anyone imagine quarterback Russell Wilson — who ends every interview with “Go ‘Hawks!” — wearing anything other than his team’s colors?

None of it will matter if Kaepernick keeps playing like he did last year.  But if/when he ever slips, some fans could be inclined to be less than blindly loyal to Kaepernick.

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Jon Kraft: “It’s not our intention” to fight to get draft picks back

Jonathan Kraft AP

Long before the Patriots got their quarterback back, they threw up their hands and accepted their own punishment for what happened in #DeflateGate.

But even though their quarterback scored a technical knockout in court today (though something far less than being found innocent), they’re not trying to reverse their own penalty.

According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said that fans “are not the only ones” who want their forfeited draft picks back, “but as we sit here today, it’s not our intention” to fight penalties.

The Patriots were fined a record $1 million, and the league took their first-round pick in 2016 and their fourth-rounder in 2017. Owner Robert Kraft said in May that he wouldn’t fight the team’s penalties for the good of the league.

But that doesn’t mean the Patriots are in full forgive-and-forget mode.

Jonathan Kraft said the league’s disciplinary process “probably needs to be re-thought, for the good of the game.”

It’s unlikely that the Patriots are going to get any satisfaction (beyond handing the league another loss in court and getting one of the best players in league history back on the field for the opener). But they are clearly willing to look for a way to change the league’s method of punishment, and can appear magnanimous in the process when the league decides to go after another team the way it did them and the Saints.

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T.J. Ward apologizes for suspension

T.J. Ward AP

Broncos safety T.J. Ward has been suspended for the regular-season opener following an off-field incident from more than a year ago. On Thursday night, Ward apologized for his actions — and tried to minimize the situation, just a bit.

“I take full responsibility for the incident that occurred in May 2014 and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions by serving my one game suspension,” Ward said in a statement issued by the team.  “Although I was never arrested and all charges against me were ultimately dismissed, I have no one to blame but myself for being in the predicament that evening.”

It doesn’t matter that Ward wasn’t arrested or that the charges were dismissed. The NFL deemed him to be in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, resulting in the one-game suspension.

Besides, a warrant was issued for Ward’s arrest. While there may have been no perp walk, Ward appeared in court and posted a $1,900 bond. Eventually, the charges were dropped when Ward agreed to perform four hours of community service.

“To the Denver Broncos organization, the Bowlen family and to the Denver Bronco fans, I want to apologize for my conduct,” Ward said.  “I have learned from my mistakes and will continue to be a pillar in the community to make myself a stronger person and player for the Denver Broncos.”

No one ever declared Ward to be a pillar of the community, but if John Bowlen can call himself the “blood of the city,” it’s hard to quibble with Ward’s contention.

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Greg Hardy will have a hard time getting his suspension reduced

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Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy reportedly is considering a legal challenge to his four-game suspension, which an arbitrator reduced from 10. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hardy is waiting for a final recommendation from the NFL Players Association.

If Hardy proceeds, he’ll have a tough time getting anything other than the money he would have made if he had been suspended only two games, the amount he believes he should have been suspended under the Personal Conduct Policy at the time he violated it.

With the regular season only 10 days away, Hardy is only 18 days away from what would be the conclusion of a two-game suspension. If Hardy were going to push for a court order allowing him to be available for Week Three and Week Four, Hardy should have filed a lawsuit weeks ago.

Hardy could still file something now, but he won’t get a final ruling before Monday, September 21. He possibly could get a temporary injunction allowing him to play pending the resolution of the case, but the judge may not be thrilled with Hardy and the NFL Players Association rushing into court with a sudden sense of urgency with respect to a decision that was issued on July 10.

The bigger problem for Hardy and the NFLPA comes from the potential P.R. reaction to an effort to reduce his suspension from four games to two, after it already had been reduced from 10 games to four — especially since Hardy’s suspension flows from an act of domestic violence.

Most fans and plenty of media members would contend that Hardy should simply be happy with the reduction by six games and not fight to have his suspension reduced even more. Which could be why Hardy hasn’t already filed suit. And which could be why he ultimately won’t.

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Rams remind fans that their signs may be removed

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As the Rams consider a move out of town, they’re making plans to prevent fans in St. Louis from expressing their displeasure.

A warning posted at the Edward Jones Dome, which longtime Rams beat writer Jim Thomas says he’s never seen before, tells fans that the team reserves the right to remove any signs for reasons including “message content.”

“Signs, banners or similar items must be football related and in good taste,” the warning continues.

In other words, if you’re planning to go to the Edward Jones Dome with a sign ripping Rams owner Stan Kroenke for trying to take the Rams to Los Angeles, you’d better be ready for stadium security to confiscate it. The Rams want the taxpayers to finance their stadium, but that doesn’t mean they want the taxpayers exercising freedom of speech inside their building.

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Tom Brady wasn’t “exonerated”

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Patriots fans have spent most of the day rejoicing Judge Berman’s decision in the Tom Brady case, and rightfully so. But to the extent that anyone believes Judge Berman “exonerated” Brady, the celebration is going a little farther than it should.

Judge Berman didn’t exonerate Brady. More specifically, Judge Berman didn’t find that Tom Brady had no awareness or involvement in an alleged (or actual) football deflation scheme. Judge Berman also didn’t find that Brady did not obstruct an NFL investigation.

Instead, Judge Berman found that, even if Brady is guilty as charged, he can’t be suspended. The NFL Players Association wisely refrained from putting it in those terms, since it would have caused some in the media to claim that the NFLPA is conceding that Brady is guilty. (When, for example, the NFL argued to Judge Berman that it doesn’t matter whether Ted Wells was truly “independent,” some thought the NFL was admitting that Wells wasn’t independent.)

The question for Judge Berman wasn’t whether Brady did or didn’t do it, even though some of his questions to the lawyers suggested that Judge Berman was curious about whether Brady did or didn’t do it. The question was whether the NFL had the power to suspend Brady. Judge Berman concluded that the NFL did not have that power.

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Report: Jason Pierre-Paul to return to Giants next week

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has kept his distance from the Giants since the July 4 fireworks accident that led to the amputation of his right index finger and a fractured right thumb, but things may be changing next week.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports that Pierre-Paul will return to the Giants next week. Pierre-Paul has not signed the franchise tag, which pays $14.813 million, placed on him by the Giants this offseason, which means his presence hasn’t been mandatory. That hasn’t made the Giants very happy, but there isn’t much they could do about it other than rescind the franchise tag and make Pierre-Paul a free agent.

Per Graziano, Pierre-Paul thinks he’s close to that point and that he will be able to get on the field with the team “early in the season.” The Giants, whose doctors have yet to examine Pierre-Paul, will surely have something to say about that timeline.

How he’ll be able to play once everyone agrees he’s ready for action is another question and one that obviously can’t be answered at this point. We do know that the Giants could use the Pierre-Paul of past years to fortify their defense’s chances of rebounding from a poor 2014 season.

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Is Dwayne Bowe on the Browns’ roster bubble?

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The Browns signed Dwayne Bowe to a two-year deal last March that included $9 million guaranteed. That should, ahem, guarantee Bowe a roster spot despite the soon to be 31-year old wide receiver missing nearly three weeks of training camp with a sore hamstring and not catching a preseason pass from starting quarterback Josh McCown.

But the Browns have a crowded receiving corps despite not having a true No. 1 receiver, and entering Thursday night’s preseason finale there’s still some uncertainty as to which receivers will make the final roster.

Solomon Wilcots, who works for NFL Network but is paid by the Browns to call preseason games on Cleveland television, appeared on the team’s official pregame radio show Thursday afternoon and hinted that Bowe is not a lock to make the roster.

“He needs to deliver (tonight),” Wilcots said. “After talking to the coaches he needs to show up tonight to be a part of the 53-man roster (this weekend).”

Wilcots didn’t say which coaches to whom he’d spoken, but his words at very least make for an interesting discussion. The Browns also have a decision coming on Terrelle Pryor, who’s trying to transition from quarterback to wide receiver but has yet to play in a preseason game.

Pryor is supposed to play in the preseason finale, but Browns coach Mike Pettine said this week that Pryor doesn’t necessarily have to play to make the 53-man roster.

Brian Hartline, another veteran receiver acquired in the offseason, is going to make the team. Andrew Hawkins and return specialist Travis Benjamin are going to make the team, too. Second-year receiver Taylor Gabriel and Bowe probably make the team, but fourth-round rookie Vince Mayle has had a tough camp.

Pryor is the wildcard and Marlon Moore is listed as a wide receiver but last year was a core special teams player. So, that’s eight players for six or seven spots — and seven probably only make it if Moore makes it.

The Browns earlier this week released defensive tackle Phil Taylor despite Taylor having more than $5.4 million guaranteed. Taylor had offseason knee surgery and might not be healthy enough to play this season.

Another expensive cut seems unlikely, but what Wilcots said at least adds a little intrigue to Thursday night’s preseason finale and the roster moves that will come in the 30 or so hours that follow.

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NFL could win Brady appeal

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As I said before Judge Berman ruled on Tom Brady’s suspension, anyone who tells you that they know what will happen in a court of law is lying or uninformed. Moving forward, I’ll say the same thing as it relates to the appeal of Judge Berman’s ruling.

No one knows what will happen, and anyone who claims that they know is lying or uninformed.

From a procedural standpoint, here’s what will happen, eventually. Of the 22 judges assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (located in New York), three will be randomly assigned to preside over the case. If only two of them agree with the NFL and disagree with Judge Berman, the NFL will win.

It’s that simple. Before the district court, it was an all-or-nothing argument to one judge and one judge only. On appeal, it’s a matter of persuading two of three judges.

The political backgrounds of those judges will be critical to the final ruling. If two of them were appointed by Republican presidents, chances are that they will be more inclined to agree with management. If, like Judge Berman, two of the judges were appointed by Democratic presidents, they could be inclined to agree with labor.

Indeed, there’s a good chance that one or more of the judges will have been involved with similar cases in the past, with their positions regarding the enforcement of arbitration agreements already firmly established, one way or the other.

In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, where I handled multiple cases while practicing law, the parties don’t even know who the judges are until the morning of the oral arguments. Ultimately, the outcome could hinge on which three judges are assigned to the case. Or, more accurately, which two judges get the assignment.

So the NFL could indeed win, although that victory may not come for a while. After that, the losing party would have to consider whether to file a petition for a rehearing before the entire Circuit. Eventually, the losing party will have to decide whether to attempt to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

If the Supreme Court decides to make this case one of the very few it agrees to hear, it could be that the final answer comes multiple years from now, with the NFL possibly securing a victory after Tom Brady already has retired.

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T.J. Ward suspended one game under personal conduct policy

T.J. Ward AP

It looks like the Broncos are going to start the season without safety T.J. Ward in their secondary.

Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reports that Ward has been suspended one game under the league’s personal conduct policy. Per Garafolo, the suspension stems from an incident at a Denver strip club in May 2014 after Ward signed with the Bronos.

Ward was arrested after throwing a mug at a bartender who had poured out Ward’s drink after telling him that outside alcoholic beverages weren’t allowed inside the club. Ward struck a plea deal last August that called for assault charges to be dropped if he completed four hours of community service. It’s not clear why it took so long for the suspension to come into effect.

Ward started 15 games in his first season with the Broncos and is set to be a starter for the Broncos again this season. David Bruton will likely take his place in Week One alongside Darian Stewart.

UPDATE 4:05 p.m. ET: The Broncos have announced the suspension.

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Ex-Colt Josh McNary found not guilty in rape trial

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Former Colts linebacker Josh McNary took the stand in his rape trial on Wednesday to testify that he and his accuser had consensual sex last December and his testimony appears to have been given a lot of credit by the jury in the case.

McNary was found not guilty of rape, criminal confinement and battery charges after a relatively brief deliberation by the jury on Thursday. McNary’s attorney said, via the Indianapolis Star, that there was “overwhelming reasonable doubt” about the accusations and that McNary’s testimony in his own defense helped to make that case.

McNary called the trial a “traumatic” and “tragic” experience and said that he hoped to resume his playing career now that it has come to an end. McNary’s contract with the Colts expired in March and he was placed on the league’s Commissioner-Exempt list when the charges were filed in January, which kept him from practicing with the team or playing in the AFC Championship game.

McNary, who played college football at West Point, spent the last two seasons with the Colts. He played in 20 games and made four starts last season.

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De Smith: We never trust the NFL, Kraft shouldn’t have either

DeMaurice Smith AP

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith says Commissioner Roger Goodell has eroded trust not just with the players, but with owners as well.

As he celebrated the decisive victory given to Tom Brady and the NFLPA in today’s Deflategate ruling, Smith told CSN Mid Atlantic that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has learned what the players already knew: Goodell is not to be trusted.

We never make the mistake of trusting the league,” Smith said. “I don’t have the luxury of trusting the league. I think looking back on the statements of Mr. Kraft and the position of the Patriots, do I think they wish they had a do over? I think they probably wish they had a do over.”

Asked about the players’ trust in the league and Goodell, Smith answered, “It’s gone.”

The legacy of Deflategate may be that it tarnishes Goodell’s reputation far more than it tarnishes Brady’s.

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Goodell won’t attend Thursday opener in Foxboro

Roger Goodell AP

Tom Brady will be in Foxboro next Thursday for the first game of the 2015 NFL season. Roger Goodell will not.

A few hours after a federal judge ruled that Goodell couldn’t suspend Brady for four games, the NFL confirmed that Goodell will be staying away from the Sept. 10 season opener between Brady’s Patriots and the Steelers.

Per Mike Garofolo of FOX Sports, Goodell won’t attend because he believes the focus should be on the game and festivities. In other words, he knows the reception he would receive from Patriots fans and believes it’s best to stay away.

Patriots-Steelers is the traditional season-opening game that’s played at the site of the defending Super Bowl champion and in front of a national TV audience. DeflateGate will still be a topic of conversation on the broadcast and in the days leading up to the game, but Goodell is hoping his absence will help make it a side story and not the focus of the broadcast.

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Marcus Mariota expected to start on Thursday night

Marcus Mariota, Justin Houston AP

On Tuesday, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said that he wasn’t sure whether quarterback Marcus Mariota would play in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Vikings.

Whisenhunt said he didn’t think there was a magic number of reps for a player to take in order to be ready for the regular season although he did add, via the Tennessean, that “you defeat the purpose of what you’re trying to accomplish if you tell somebody he’s not playing in the game.” It seems that Whisenhunt has opted not to deliver that message to Mariota.

John Glennon of the Tennessean reports that Mariota is expected to be in the starting lineup against Minnesota. If that’s the case, the rest of the Titans starting offense is going to be in the game as well because the Titans aren’t going to compound the risk of injury to Mariota by sending him out there with backups doing the blocking, running and catching.

Mariota has completed 19-of-27 passes for 252 yards and an interception this summer while adding 17 more yards on five carries. Most of his work has come as a pocket passer, which was an area of concern heading into the draft. Mariota has looked solid, though, and you’d expect him to improve with more time running the offense, which may explain why the Titans would want to play him in a game that’s often left for players way down the depth chart.

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Robert Kraft: Now we can return our attention to the field

Robert Kraft, Tom Brady AP

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the latest NFL figure to issue a statement in response to Judge Richard Berman’s decision to overturn Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s suspension.

It comes as no surprise that Kraft is happy with Berman’s ruling.

“As I have said during this process and throughout his Patriots career, Tom Brady is a classy person of the highest integrity,” Kraft said. “He represents everything that is great about this game and this league. Yet, with absolutely no evidence of any actions of wrongdoing by Tom in the Wells report, the lawyers at the league still insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted and unprecedented discipline. Judge Richard Berman understood this and we are greatly appreciative of his thoughtful decision that was delivered today. Now, we can return our focus to the game on the field.”

The lawyers at the league include chief counsel Jeff Pash. Judge Berman cited the inability to cross-examine Pash, who had a hand in editing the Wells investigation that the league called independent, as one of the reasons for vacating the suspension.

There will still be a few eyes on the courtroom with the NFL appealing the decision, although that’s not likely to have an impact on the field for the Patriots in 2015 since the league won’t be looking for a stay of the ruling. Berman’s ruling only pertains to Brady, so the Patriots will still have to fork over $1 million, their 2016 first-round pick and their 2016 fourth-round pick after Kraft opted to accept those penalties rather than fight the league earlier this year.

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NFL won’t seek a stay of Berman’s ruling, leaving Brady free to play

Tom Brady, Wes Horton AP

The NFL will appeal Judge Richard Berman’s decision to erase Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, but they reportedly won’t be trying to keep Brady off the field against the Steelers next week.

According to multiple reports, the league will not seek a stay of Berman’s ruling as part of their appeal. If they tried for and were granted a stay by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Brady’s suspension would remain in place pending a decision by that court.

With no stay, Brady will be free to play until and unless that decision comes back affirming the league’s right to suspend Brady. If things did go that way, Brady could conceivably wind up suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.

While the appeal means there’s still a lot of legal wrangling to come, it should be lower profile than what we’ve seen this summer. With Brady set to be on the field, the legal proceedings will likely take a backseat to the action in the stadiums.

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