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Mario Williams happy to be free from offseason distractions

Mario Williams AP

Bills defensive end Mario Williams spent part of his offseason engaged in a fight with his ex-fiancée about the return of a $785,000 engagement ring.

Williams filed a lawsuit in an attempt to compel Erin Marzouki to return the ring, which led her to release text messages that featured Williams talking about taking prescription painkillers and suicidal thoughts. Williams said those messages were blown out of proportion and the case continues on.

Williams said Saturday that it isn’t weighing too heavily on his mind as camp gets underway, however. Williams said several times that he was focused entirely on football and away from the distractions that plagued his offseason, a change that pleases him.

“Definitely,” Williams said, via Joe Buscaglia of WGR550.com. “Everything that’s happened has been unfortunate, but it is what it is and I can’t let that distract me in any way with how big this is for this city and for the fans. And that’s my mindset.”

With the Bills shifting to a new scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Williams should continue to have plenty to keep his mind occupied in the weeks to come. He’s expected to move around the defense a lot and come at the quarterback from a variety of angles in hopes of improving on last year’s 10.5 sacks. Doing so won’t get him the ring or the $785,000 back, but it might set the stage for a more pleasant offseason next time around.

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Packers CEO says hope was Mueller investigation done soon

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The NFL appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to lend some credibility and provide a thorough investigation into the handling of the Ray Rice case.

They apparently wanted a quick one, too.

During a discussion at Marquette Law School yesterday, Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said the outcome of the investigation could help the league begin to heal some of the damage sustained by Commissioner Roger Goodell over the last few months.

“We’ll see,” Murphy said, via Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I think Roger has done some good things, particularly on the domestic violence front. . . . To me a key, key, key is going to be the investigation . . . . To see what that shows. We have an owners’ meeting coming up next week in New York. The hope was the investigation would be completed by then. Whether or not it [will be] I don’t know.”

Considering Mueller was appointed on Sept. 10, that’s a quick turnaround for an investigation that needs to be especially thorough.

And Murphy made his own case for the damage done, saying the aftermath of the Rice situation is the biggest crisis the league has faced since he played in the 1970s.

“I do think the credibility of the league has been challenged,” Murphy said. “I think we have taken a real hit in terms of credibility, respect. I don’t think it is fatal. But people have lost a little respect for the league. . . .

“The league has been so successful . . . I think when you stumble a little bit, people are eager to, are quick to criticize. Quite honestly, I have great respect for Roger. I think he has done a lot of really good things for the league. But when your compensation is $44 million, some people look at that and say they are out of touch with the rest of society. And then when you do err, when you do make a mistake, I think it is very easy for people to really turn on you.”

That’s happened, as the NFL may be slow to realize. And a rushed investigation might only add to the discontent, especially if it comes back saying the league did nothing wrong.

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Report: No change in status for Josh McCown

Josh McCown AP

Earlier this week, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith declined to say whether or not Mike Glennon would start at quarterback in Week Five if Josh McCown got the green light to return to the playing field after suffering a right thumb injury in Week Three.

He may be able to keep things close to his vest for at least another week.

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that this week’s evaluations have led to no change in McCown’s status. He’s not scheduled to have surgery and is reportedly getting better, but is still considered unlikely to play against the Saints this week.

Glennon started and beat the Steelers with a fourth quarter comeback in Week Four, giving the Bucs their first win of the season and leading some to call for a more permanent change at the top of the Tampa depth chart. Smith’s not willing to go there at this point, but a second straight victory and strong performance will make it much harder to go back to McCown and couch it as a decision made to give the team their best chance to win.

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Bears defense may prefer to face Cam Newton

Newton AP

As the Bears prepare to return their sanctuary away from Soldier Field, where the home team is 0-2, they’ll be squaring off again the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.

There’s a good chance they prefer that to squaring off against the Panthers and quarterback Derek Anderson.

With Newton still limited by offseason ankle surgery and a preseason rib injury, Anderson could give the Panthers a better chance to win — especially since the Bears already have beaten in their own buildings this year young, mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Geno Smith.  With the full breadth of Newton’s game restricted, the Bears could have a harder time defending a pocket passer like Anderson.

And no, that’s not funny.  There’s nothing funny about that.

This assumes that the Panthers won’t be ready to “unleash” Newton by Sunday.  They definitely weren’t ready to do that in Baltimore last Sunday, where the home team preferred defending an impaired Newton to a healthy Anderson.

Of course, Anderson isn’t exactly Johnny Unitas.  Yes, the former Browns starter has had his moments, but there’s a reason he’s currently not a starter on one of the other teams.  However, until Newton can do all the things he did last year and previously, it could be that Anderson really does give Carolina a better option.

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Josh McDaniels confident Patriots offense can get going

Tom Brady, Josh McDaniels AP

Concern about the state of the offense in New England rose steadily during the first month of the season and peaked during Monday night’s thumping at the hands of the Chiefs.

A leaky offensive line, an unimpressive group of wide receivers and a poor four games by quarterback Tom Brady are some of the flash points for that concern and there are plenty of people wondering if the Patriots can come up with solutions to those problems. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows things are in a bad place right now, but he believes they can turn things around.

“I have a lot of confidence in our guys,” McDaniels said, via CSNNE.com. “We didn’t play well [Monday] night. We didn’t coach well offensively. We obviously have to do a lot better, starting with me. There is no shortcut to that, but we’ve got a lot of players that have played a lot of good football here before. We know it’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We know that it’s going to be critical for us to get better and improve each week.”

McDaniels’s message of patience was mixed with one for more urgency, especially when it comes to getting off to a fast start offensively. The Patriots have not scored first in any of their games this season and playing with a lead could help with the offensive line’s issues by slowing down some of the pass rush that comes when you’re playing from behind. He didn’t add any specifics about how the team will do that, but there will be a lot less stress about the means if victory is the end result.

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Owners want to discuss how to handle exempt-list players

Greg Hardy AP

Right now, the Panthers run defense has turned porous, they’re not getting enough pressure on quarterbacks, and the team is making a $770,000 a week donation to the wrong side of domestic violence awareness.

Naturally, owner Jerry Richardson would seem unhappy with that.

According to Ed Werder of ESPN, owners want to discuss how to handle the financial obligations to players such as Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson at next week’s owners meetings.

Those two are on the dusted-off-because-we’re-flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants commissioner’s exempt list, and are still getting paid while they await trial.

For Peterson, that’s $11.75 million. For Hardy, it’s $13.1 million.

Each played one game before being parked safely outside public view, and they’re creating financial anchors for the teams in question.

So it’s only natural for the guys writing the checks to want to prevent throwing money down a hole, but the answer to doing it without violating the spirit of “due process” might be trickier to pull off.

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NFL, NFLPA cooperating in the face of “difficult” circumstances

GoodellSmith Getty Images

The NFLPA has the NFL over a barrel.  Instead of behaving the way the league possibly/probably/definitely would if the tables were turned and the NFLPA were on the ropes and seemingly trying to punch itself through, the players’ union seems to be taking the high road.

Or maybe the NFLPA is simply trying to preserve its considerable piece of the financial pie under the current labor deal.

PFT has obtained a copy of the email sent late Monday afternoon by executive director DeMaurice Smith to union leadership.  The biggest development comes from the decision of the NFL to use truly neutral arbitration for the selection of an appeal officer in the Ray Rice case.  And like a truly neutral arbitration process, the two sides have exchanged names of potential hearing officers, and the parties will confer in making a selection.

Once the selection is made, and if the hearing officer accepts the assignment, the process will move toward a hearing date.  It’s unclear when that will happen.

It is clear that the NFLPA has decided not to push for a hearing in accordance with the strict terms of the labor deal.  Under the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the hearing should have occurred by September 30.  This more deliberate process could result in the appeal hearing happening after the Robert Mueller investigation has concluded, which will give both sides more fodder for questions to be posed to the witnesses who will testify during the Rice appeal hearing.

It’s a significant development that comes on the heels of the union securing neutral arbitration for most violations of the substance-abuse and PED policies.  The dramatic reduction in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s power over these issues, and his willingness to submit the Rice appeal (during which Goodell will likely testify) to neutral arbitration, could be a sign that, in time, Goodell will yield much of his authority under the Personal Conduct Policy.  Or perhaps all of it.

Smith’s email also points out that the NFLPA has been working with the league of identify experts “from a variety of backgrounds” to assist joint efforts to improve eduction, prevention, counseling, and the disciplinary process regarding domestic violence and sexual assault issues.  Likewise, Smith explained that the NFLPA is communicating with league sponsors who may be concerned about recent events to make the case that the “far majority of players are exactly the type of representatives they want.”

Smith is right.  Nearly all NFL players comply with the law and all relevant league policies.  But the current profile of the sport results in significant attention for the small handful whose conduct besmirches the reputation of the NFL and the NFLPA.  Which makes it even more important that the league have fair, consistent, and transparent practices when it comes to investigating and addressing such incidents — and that the league never bungle a case nearly as badly as the Ray Rice case was bungled.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

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The Bills have proven better at forcing turnovers than at taking advantage of them.

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is feeling better after a big win — and after sleeping off his jet lag.

Who deserves the blame for the Patriots’ struggling offense?

Joe Namath doesn’t like what he sees when he watches the Jets’ offense.

Ravens practice squad WR Deonte Thompson’s job this week is to imitate Colts WR T.Y. Hilton.

The Bengals are hoping for their first 4-0 start since 2005.

The Browns are entering an easier stretch of their schedule, but coach Mike Pettine doesn’t want his players to think about that.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is bringing officials to practice to address his team’s penalty problem.

Jadeveon Clowney says he’s a few weeks away from being healthy enough to play for the Texans.

The Colts think their offense is getting better as their players get more comfortable playing together.

Said Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, “We’ll get this thing right, there’s not a doubt in my mind. For some reason, we’re going through some of these struggles right now, but it’s only going to make us stronger.”

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt says his team is “having growing pains.”

Broncos DT Terrance Knighton is drawing praise for his play.

Said Chiefs CB Sean Smith of Monday night’s game, “I got some praise from Tom Brady, so I guess I’m doing all right. He said I’m doing a good job, man.”

Raiders coach Tony Sparano is concerned that his players have forgotten how to win.

Chargers fans still have to worry about blackouts, despite Tuesday’s FCC ruling.

Cowboys V.P. Stephen Jones joked about his father giving Tony Romo a back massage.

The Giants may need to give RB Andre Williams more playing time.

Eagles QB Nick Foles is throwing deep often and not hitting his receivers frequently enough.

What if neither Robert Griffin III nor Kirk Cousins is good enough to be Washington’s quarterback of the future?

The Bears are still struggling to fill the kick returner spot vacated when they let Devin Hester walk in free agency.

Lions RB Montell Owens is on injured reserve for the second straight years.

Are the Packers’ struggles in the running game related to their up-tempo offense?

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has done pretty well against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.

There’s a strong argument that Falcons RB Antone Smith deserves more touches.

Panthers CB Josh Norman has been promoted to the starting lineup.

The Saints were out-played by the Cowboys in all phases of the game.

Bucs CB Brandon Dixon is looking forward to playing against his identical twin brother, Saints CB Brian Dixon.

The 3-0 Cardinals say they’re a better team than the 2012 Cardinals, who started 4-0.

St. Louis is preparing to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Greatest Show on Turf.

The 49ers’ defense is playing well despite being at less than 100 percent.

Seahawks TE Luke Wilson is ready for his chance to start.

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Lions promote George Winn from practice squad

George Winn AP

The Lions lost three running backs to injuries during last Sunday’s victory over the Jets and they made a move on Tuesday to shore up the position ahead of this week’s home date with the Bills.

The team has signed running back George Winn off the practice squad. Winn has bounced around the league on practice squads and offseason rosters since 2013, but this will be his first shot at a job in the regular season. He could see work pretty quickly.

Detroit placed Montell Owens on injured reserve to make room for Winn, Joique Bell has a concussion and Theo Riddick is battling a hamstring issue of his own, so Reggie Bush and fullback Jed Collins are the only healthy backs on the roster right now. Bush should see the most work, but the Lions have been adamant about not overloading him so Winn could find himself in the mix.

ESPN.com reports that the Lions also worked out running backs Tashard Choice and Alex Green on Tuesday and signed former Cardinals running back William Powell to the practice squad.

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Davis on Gruden: I may call him, he may call me

Jon Gruden Getty Images

Raiders owner Mark Davis thinks his team’s head coaching job will be “enticing” to candidates because they’ll have loads of cap space at their disposal come next offseason.

There’s a belief that the candidate that Davis would most like to entice into the position is former Raiders coach and current ESPN commentator Jon Gruden, whose tenure in Oakland came to an end when Davis’s father traded him to Tampa more than a decade ago. On Tuesday, Davis was asked about whether Gruden would be on the team’s list of candidates.

“He may reach out to me. I may reach out to him,” Davis said, via Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. “I may reach out to anybody. That’s the future, and I’m not going to talk about future coaches.”

There are a lot of questions attached to a pursuit of Gruden, starting with how much money it would take to get him out of the Monday Night Football booth and whether the departure of General Manager Reggie McKenzie would be a prerequisite for a return to Oakland. If Kawakami is correct that Davis is “more willing to spend” than ever and that Gruden is his “dream candidate,” the answers could put the ball firmly in Gruden’s court when it comes to resuming his coaching career.

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Greg Jennings doesn’t really miss Green Bay at all

Britain Football NFL AP

Packers fans booed Greg Jennings when he came back to Lambeau Field last year.

But that’s not the reason the Vikings wide receiver has moved on, and spoke freely when asked if he missed Green Bay.

Honestly, to be honest, no,” Jennings said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “It doesn’t because — and this is sincerity right here — it really has nothing to do with football. From a football standpoint, I would have loved to have finished my career out in Green Bay, but from where I am spiritually and where I am with my family and the growth that we’ve had because of what we have around us educationally — and there was some great educational systems there, as well — but this is a step up for us.

“We’re just embracing it. We’re excited to be here, and not just because of what football affords and presents but because of everything else that comes with it.”

Not every player falls in love with the pastoral scene of rural Wisconsin, and there was no turning down the $45 million contract the Vikings gave him. But it might not make him any more popular there, considered the reception he got last season.
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Tannehill rested, relieved to have last week behind him

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After a long week and a long flight home, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill fell asleep on Monday Night Football.

So it had to relieve him to wake up realizing he was tied for first place in the AFC East, and that he probably wasn’t going to have to answer questions about his job status this week.

Well, it feels a little different,’’ Tannehill said, George Richards of the Miami Herald. “I’m not going to lie on that, but it feels good. It is a step in the positive direction for us, for myself and for the offense, for the team. We needed to go over there and come out with a victory, and we were able to do that.’’

Mostly, he needed to play well to quell coach Joe Philbin’s self-started controversy, and he responded on the field. At one point, Tannehill completed 14 straight passes, and looked sharper than he had all season.

“I don’t think I felt any added pressure or anything like that,’’ Tannehill said. “Regardless of what was going on on the outside world, I have a vision of myself of what player I want to be and how I want to play. Like I said on Sunday, I wasn’t playing up to those standards. I wanted to go out and play well, and make the plays.”

And maybe now his coach shares the vision, and won’t proceed to make everything harder for everyone.

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Rashad Jennings is helping Odell Beckham learn to stretch

Odell Beckham AP

All offseason, the Giants have been waiting for Odell Beckham’s hamstring to join them.

And with an assist from running back Rashad Jennings, it may be close to making an appearance.

According to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, Beckham’s recovery is in part to the warm-up routine he lifted from the veteran running back

“I just saw what he was doing,” Beckham told the Daily News. “He had his thing, so I wanted to try it. And it’s helped me out. It made me feel good.”

“He kind of came under my wing,” Jennings said. “It was on the practice field. Said, ‘I like the way you work. I appreciate the way you work.’ He’s been with me every day.”

Jennings has a prescribed series of drills he does after team stretching, which focus on some of the smaller muscles that help stabilize the big ones.

“It’s just a lot of movement prep,” he says. “Ankle mobility, functionality stuff, just to get the body loose, warm, and tighten the muscles that need to be tightened. It’s a lot of everything. It’s full-body. It’s something that I’ve been doing for the last three, four years.”

If he can get the first-round wide receiver on the field and doing something, it’ll be worth the time invested.

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Cardinals release linebacker Victor Butler

Victor Butler AP

The Arizona Cardinals released linebacker Victor Butler on Tuesday.

The team had signed Butler just two weeks ago to add some depth at linebacker with John Abraham’s placement on the injured reserve list.

However, Butler was not active for the Cardinals game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 and was subsequently released by the team this week. With the bye week allowing Alex Okafor to recover from a thigh injury, Butler was no longer needed on the roster.

Butler missed all of the 2013 season after tearing his ACL with the New Orleans Saints. He was sidelined for the majority of training camp before finally getting cleared to return. The Saints then released him soon afterward.

Butler has not appeared in an NFL game since the final week of the 2012 season with the Dallas Cowboys. He recorded 25 tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles for Dallas, which helped him get a contract with the Saints.

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Change in shoes alleviates ankle issues for Kam Chancellor

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Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor had one of the poorest performances of his career in a Week 2 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Chancellor was hampered by bone spurs in his ankle that limited his ability to move effectively. Chancellor drew coverage responsibilities against tight end Antonio Gates frequently, who caught seven passes for 96 yards and three touchdowns in the Chargers 30-21 victory over Seattle.

The issue had Chancellor considering surgery over the bye week to correct the issue so he could be fully healthy for the team’s stretch run in November and December.

Instead, a change in footwear appears to have solved much of the problem.

According to Terry Blount of ESPN.com, Chancellor has switched from low tops shoes to a version with more ankle support.

“Yeah, I was thinking about [surgery] before the Broncos game,” Chancellor said. “We found some ways to get around it and get better comfort. It feels better now. It’s feels good. No concerns at all.”

Chancellor had surgery following the 2012 season for bone spurs in his ankle as well. The problem resurfaced the week before Seattle’s game against the Chargers and had a noticeable effect on his performance.

“He made it back and did a really good job last week, played great football,” head coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “He looked fine today so we might have put that one behind us.”

 

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Harrison says the problem isn’t Brady but his supporting cast

Brady AP

So what’s wrong with Tom Brady?  A former teammate says the real question is what’s wrong with the guys around him.

Tom Brady can still play,” NBC’s Rodney Harrison told WEEI in Boston on Tuesday, via ESPN.com.  “But when you surround him — there’s a reason why Brandon LaFell was let go [by Carolina]. He’s not a great player. He’s a young guy, and he has to make his way in this league.

“And Danny Amendola, you look at him, no one ever said he was a great player. He’s always been hurt. The history is behind it.  Rob Gronkowski obviously coming off that ACL injury, he’s been hurt.  So it’s not like when you look at the Patriots on paper they just have all these weapons and teams are afraid of them.”

Then there’s the blocking.  Or lack of it.

“I think it’s one of those situations where Brady, he’s really, really frustrated,” Harrison said. “He doesn’t have any confidence in his offensive line.”

As a result, Harrison thinks Brady is “scared to death” in the pocket.

“But at the end of the day, Tom needs to play better,” Harrison said.  “The offensive line needs to protect him, but Tom — we’ve said it week in and week out — he’s missing opportunities that are there; he’s just floating the ball in the air.”

The ball may be floating some more on Sunday night.  Fresh off a 41-14 thrashing by the Chiefs on national TV, the Pats return home to face the 3-0 Bengals on Sunday Night Football.

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