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Vikings break off stadium talks

Vikings Stadium Football AP

The headline makes the situation look worse than it is, but three weeks ago it would have been inconceivable.

According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, the Vikings have broken off talks aimed at finalizing the team’s new stadium pending resolution of an investigation regarding the owners of the franchise.

The development potentially will delay groundbreaking for the stadium, which currently is set for November 7.   To stay on track, the stadium deal needs to be finalized by September 15.

There’s a concern that, if the construction doesn’t begin in November 2012, the stadium may not be ready in time for the 2016 season.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority decided in the wake of a New Jersey lawsuit resulting in a finding of fraud and civil racketeering by owners Zygi and Mark Wilf to investigate the Wilfs.  The Vikings and the Wilfs surely aren’t happy about that.  And the one way they can exert a little leverage is to say, essentially, “Once you decide you can trust us again, we’ll talk.”

Plenty of additional dominoes have to fall before the stadium deal blows up and the Vikings join the Lakers in Los Angeles.  But the chances of that happening are a lot more significant than they were last month at this time, when the possibility of the Vikings leaving was nil.

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Joe Flacco: I love Ray Lewis, but his speeches didn’t even make sense

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

When Ray Lewis was asking his teammates if any dogs were in the house, Joe Flacco wondered what all the woofing was about.

For the second time this offseason, Flacco has said that while Lewis was a great player and teammate, the pregame speeches that were intended to fire up the locker room often left Flacco feeling more confused than anything else. In March, Flacco said Lewis used to lose him while addressing the team, and now in an interview with ESPN the Magazine, Flacco has said that as he takes more of a leadership role, he’s not leading the way Lewis did.

“That’s not me,” Flacco says. “I love Ray, and I love how he always spoke from the heart, but if you listened to those speeches, a lot of them didn’t even make sense. He meant everything he was saying, but I didn’t know what he was talking about 90 percent of the time.”

Flacco also said that the Ravens had grown too dependent on letting the Lewis-led defense win games, with the offense basically just being tasked with not losing.

“I don’t think they’d won more than one playoff game from the time they won the Super Bowl in 2000 to the time I got there. So we obviously needed to take another step,” Flacco said.

Flacco is right about that: After the 2000 Ravens won the Super Bowl, the 2001 Ravens won one playoff game, and then the Ravens didn’t win any more playoff games until Flacco arrived in the 2008 NFL draft. His arrival put the Ravens over the top, and he sounds confident that he can keep the Ravens on top, even without Lewis’s pregame speeches.

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Antonio Smith’s appeal denied

Antonio Smith AP

The next time Texans defensive end Antonio Smith plays in a game, it will be the second week of the regular season.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the NFL has denied Smith’s appeal of the suspension he earned for swinging Dolphins guard Richie Incognito’s helmet in Incognito’s direction after ripping it off of Incognito’s head during an altercation in a preseason game between the teams last weekend. PFT has confirmed  that the appeal was denied, and PFT has learned that the hearing officer was Ted Cottrell.

Smith was suspended for the two remaining preseason games and Week One of the regular season earlier this week. Smith will be able to attend team meetings for the remainder of the preseason, but he won’t be allowed to practice with the team until the suspension comes to an end. Smith won’t count against the team’s 53-man roster limit when they make their cuts later this month.

Jared Crick and Tim Jamison are the likeliest replacements for Smith on the defensive line until his suspension comes to an end.

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Bruce Allen: NFC East the SEC of the NFL

Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen AP

The NFC East remains a top television draw, and the size of the markets involved makes the teams in that division among the best-covered.

But its members may have a skewed vision of where they actually reside.

During an interview with ESPN 980 (via the Washington Post), Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said his team resided in the league’s toughest division.

“There’s so many changes in the playoff teams each year — I think half of them change each year anyway,” Allen said. “And in our division, you know, we’re in the SEC of the NFL. This is the big leagues. I think when the Giants last won the Super Bowl, they won it with a 9-7 record. So we have to keep competing in our division, and that’s what our focus is.”

There’s only one problem with Allen’s SEC-NFC East comparsion.

The NFC East has won two of the last 17 Super Bowls (both by the Giants), while the SEC has provided nine of the 15 BCS national champions, with five teams contributing to the haul.

And besides, teams in the NFC East get punished for circumventing the salary cap from time to time.

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Cam Newton: Offense didn’t do its part on Thursday night

Carolina Panthers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

The Panthers defense and special teams had a great night against the Ravens.

Ted Ginn returned a punt for a touchdown and the defense scored three touchdowns to account for 28 of the team’s 34 points. As you would probably imagine, the offense wasn’t clicking on quite as many cylinders.

Coach Ron Rivera said that the offense had limited opportunities because of all the touchdown returns, but said that didn’t excuse them from averaging 3.5 yards per play when they were on the field. It also doesn’t excuse three sacks of quarterback Cam Newton nor several other missed blocks and dropped passes that left Newton lamenting his unit’s failure to hold up their end of things.

“When the defense plays like that, I feel like we let those guys down,” Newton said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The offense clearly needs to be better than they were on Thursday, but the issues didn’t just crop up against Baltimore. The starting offense hasn’t scored a touchdown since the opening quarter of the opening preseason game and there hasn’t been much dynamism on display at any point. Some of that could be explained by not wanting to show too many tricks in the preseason, but the questions about whether offensive coordinator Mike Shula is the right man to run the offense will linger until the team proves otherwise.

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PFT Live: Ravens talk with Clifton Brown, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Carolina Panthers v Baltimore Ravens AP

The Ravens played their third preseason game of the year against the Panthers on Thursday night and we’ll be talking about the biggest developments in that contest during Friday’s edition of PFT Live.

Clifton Brown of CSN Baltimore will join Mike Florio to talk about a game that featured an offensive performance that left coach John Harbaugh to say that he wasn’t worried about the offense despite three return touchdowns for the Panthers defense. They’ll also talk about which receivers have done well for themselves in camp and a few of the biggest concerns heading into the regular season.

It won’t be all about the Ravens, however. PFT Planet can tell us which other clubs they want to discuss by getting on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or by giving a call to 888-237-5269.

You can watch it all live by clicking right here at noon ET.

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Mark Murphy doubts 18 regular or 2 preseason games

LKK AP

The 18-game schedule is like the NFL’s hole card, the thing that won’t go away, that might be “on the table” from time to time, though few expect it to happen.

But it’s interesting to see how those in the league address the topic, and how the view of scheduling changes over time.

In an interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Packers president Mark Murphy again said he didn’t expect to see an 18-game slate.

“I think with all the concerns about the health and safety of players, it’s hard to justify,” Murphy said. “To go from 16 to 18 regular-season (games) would be a lot more wear and tear. It would be additional games for your starters.”

Murphy has made similar comments about the regular season before. But while he previously said he could get behind a 16-game regular season with a two-game preseason, his latest remarks made it appear he’s realized that’s not happening either.

Murphy, who serves on the league’s management council executive committee, competition committee and health and safety committee, said there were a “couple issues there” with cutting the preseason in half.

“You’ve got loss of revenue — you don’t have much TV revenue from that, but you do have ticket revenue,” Murphy said. “And then the other big issue is being able to really evaluate and develop young players. Taking away those two game opportunities, especially since we have so many fewer practices [in training camp], . . . you don’t block and tackle [in practice] so the games are really important in terms of evaluating.”

Murphy suggested that one possibility was building an extra bye week in between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season. But that’s already happening in a sense, with every team closing the preseason on next Thursday, to clear the weekend.

Either way, it’s clear the league realizes there’s some degree of problem with the current exhibition product, but isn’t wild about giving away money to fix it.

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Kenbrell Thompkins could be the anti-Hernandez for the Pats

Thompkins AP

It’s fitting that a season marred by murder charges against one of the Patriots’ top tight ends could be salvaged in part by an undrafted wideout who was arrested seven times before his 19th birthday.

Kenbrell Thompkins was signed before Aaron Hernandez’s arrest and possibly wouldn’t have been signed after it.  The rookie has emerged as one of the best receivers on the roster.  He started Thursday night’s preseason game against the Lions, catching eight passes for 116 yards.

The cousin of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, Thompkins’ history was recently detailed by the Boston Herald.  At age seven, he shot himself in the arm.  In middle school, he was selling drugs.  An arrest for armed robbery prompted one of multiple expulsions from high school.  Later, Thompkins was busted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and he served 28 days in jail.

A convoluted path through college football ended in Cincinnati, where Brown helped persuade coach Butch Jones (who coached Brown at Central Michigan) to give Thompkins a chance.  Though Thompkins caught only 34 passes for 541 yards and two touchdowns in his final season with the Bearcats, he has quickly shot up the depth chart in New England, starting the team’s two most recent preseason games.

With second-rounder Aaron Dobson and free-agent arrival Danny Amendola destined to get plenty of playing time, Thompkins could be nailing down one of the outside spots when Amendola lines up, as he inevitably will, in the slot.

Thompkins’ history fits the profile of the kind of player that the post-Hernandez Patriots may try to avoid.  But the rookie’s potential performance, if coupled with good behavior, could make it harder for teams like the Patriots to know when to give a guy with a troubled past a chance to turn his life around, and when to avoid the player at all costs.

By all appearances, Thompkins has changed his life.  Given their experience with Hernandez, the Patriots may be in much better position to draw a reliable line between guys who truly have separated from past troubles, and those like Hernandez who merely say all the right things.

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A.J. Green will likely play on Saturday, but he won’t play much

Cincinnati Bengals v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Bengals have had several key players sidelined at various points this summer by injuries, with wide receiver A.J. Green’s bruised knee starting things off at an early training camp practice.

Green returned to practice last week, but didn’t play in the team’s second preseason game. It looks like he’ll take that next step on Saturday when the Bengals travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys.

“At some point you will see A.J. Green. He may be beside me in warmups. I think he’s making the trip,” Lewis said, via the Bengals website. “It will be good to at least play a little bit and it will be fun for him to play. He wants to play. He’s ready to play and we’ll go from there.”

Green won’t be playing much, however. Lewis said he’s not a subscriber to the theory that a team’s starters have to play deep into the third preseason game of the year — “It’s way different than it used to be,” he explained — and Green’s not a player worth pushing one snap beyond what’s necessary given his importance to the team’s offensive scheme.

The status of other players, like tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, is less certain.

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Luke Kuechly got mad, then got even

Luke Kuechly AP

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was angry when he was flagged for hitting Ravens wide receiver Aaron Mellette in the head, because it negated his breakup-turned-interception.

As it turns out, that was bad news for the Ravens. Two plays later, Kuechly picked off Joe Flacco, showing the kind of instincts alarming for a player so young.

“He doesn’t get mad often,” Panthers linebacker Jon Beason told Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports. “But when he does, good things seem to happen.”

In addition to the pick, Kuechly forced a fumble which was recovered for a touchdown, at times living in the Ravens backfield.

It was the kind of performance the Panthers are growing accustomed to from last year’s first-rounder.

“I’m a big fan of ‘Luuuuuuuke’ Kuechly,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “He’s just a person that holds himself to a standard that failure is not an option for him.

“For him to not get the favor of the call, . . . [and] to come back and get an interception, that’s just a testament of who Luke is.”

Having him in the middle of that defense (a job which used to belong to Beason) is going to keep the Panthers competitive this year. Particularly after they invested their first two draft picks in defensive tackles to keep traffic out of his way, he should be able to continue to make such plays.

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Steelers acquire Felix Jones in trade with Eagles

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

In 1943, the Steelers and Eagles merged to form a team unofficially known as the Steagles as a way to deal with the number of players who were overseas fighting in World War II.

Seventy years later, they’ve come together again to swing a trade that the Steelers hope will help them cope with the loss of running back Le’Veon Bell to a foot injury.

The Eagles announced that they are sending running back Felix Jones to Pittsburgh in exchange for linebacker Adrian Robinson.

Jones was not expected to make the Eagles roster as he was running fourth on the depth chart behind LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. In Pittsburgh, he’ll join Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and LaRod Stephens-Howling among the healthy backs vying for snaps while Bell recovers from a sprained foot.

Jones’ performance with the Eagles this summer and with Dallas in the last couple of years doesn’t provide much confidence that he’s got a lot left in the tank, but the Steelers know what they have with Dwyer and Redman, in particular, and their feelings about that pair were made clear when they drafted Bell in the first place.

Robinson played 12 games with the Steelers last year after making the team as an undrafted free agent. He went to Temple, so the trade is something of a homecoming for Robinson. His ability to make an impact on special teams will likely determine how long the homecoming lasts.

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NFL says it didn’t pressure ESPN to pull out of Frontline project

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Mentioned in the report that the NFL pressured ESPN to abandon its concussion project with PBS, but hardly highlighted, is the league’s position that no pressure was applied.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello reiterated in an email to PFT that the league did not pressure ESPN to abandon the effort.

“It is not true that we pressured ESPN to pull out of the film,” Aiello said.  “The lunch was requested several weeks ago by ESPN.  We meet with our business partners on a regular basis and this was not unusual.”

The lunch reportedly occurred between Commissioner Roger Goodell, outgoing NFL Network chief Steve Bornstein, ESPN president John Skipper, and ESPN executive V.P. for production John Wildhack.

Still, it’s hard not to think that the NFL put the squeeze on ESPN — especially since short-timer Bornstein, a former ESPN president, attended the sit-down.  Ten years ago, the league had no qualms about openly calling for ESPN to dump Playmakers.  With ESPN engaged in concussion-related journalism that, at times, seems a little over the top or simply inaccurate, there’s nothing wrong with the NFL being concerned, and there’s nothing wrong with the NFL expressing those concerns.

Of course, the outcome arguably makes ESPN look worse than the league — if pressure was indeed applied.  Critics will say that ESPN should have a firewall between its journalistic enterprises and its business interests.  If ESPN shuttered a journalistic operation due to business concerns, that’s a potential problem.

Maybe the truth is that neither the NFL nor ESPN management were comfortable with journalism that at times wasn’t balanced or fair.  Last November, for example, ESPN journalists tried to paint a 14-year-old disability award to Mike Webster as proof that the league knew all about the dangers of mild brain injuries long before the NFL admitted to having such knowledge and acting on it.  ESPN called it a “smoking gun,” but it was neither smoking nor a gun — especially since the NFLPA (i.e., the players) had a direct role in the disability process and, in turn, awareness of the ruling and, necessarily, the chronic risks of concussions.

Regardless, ESPN and the NFL deny that pressure was placed on ESPN.  The New York Times contends otherwise.  Most people likely will believe the New York Times report, because it makes sense that the NFL would have concerns — and it makes sense given ESPN’s past willingness to pull the plug on the popular Playmakers show that ESPN would find a plausible path away from its PBS partnership.

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Derek Sherrod’s family sheds light on his long recovery

Derek Sherrod AP

The Packers haven’t had much to say about the status of 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod since putting him on the PUP list at the start of camp, but the tackle’s family is filling in some blanks to help explain why Sherrod remains off the field since breaking his leg in December 2011.

Sherrod broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg and had surgery to repair the injury a short time later. He was on the PUP list through last year’s camp and into the regular season before a brief return to practice showed he wasn’t ready to return. His father, Louis Sherrod, explained that his son’s leg couldn’t bear weight and MRIs revealed an ankle problem that required further surgery this year.

“It was just complications from the way that the surgery was performed,” said Dezmond Sherrod, Derek’s older brother, via Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They affected other mechanisms within the leg. The tibia and fibula were broken the first time, but that affects how your knee and ankle interact. When you have something off in one area, it can affect other areas. After you have surgery, only time will tell how things work out. It wasn’t until he was ready to go back on the field and starting running and doing things, putting more pressure and body weight on it … that’s when he noticed things weren’t where they should be as far as the timetable when to get back on the field.”

The Sherrods have no ill will toward the original surgeons, explaining that complications arise from emergency surgery and that they were happy doctors operated as promptly as they did. Louis Sherrod thinks his son is a few weeks away from getting on the field, which suggests that he’ll miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season on the PUP list while he works his way back into playing shape.

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Vick tells reporters: You made me change the way I played

Michael Vick AP

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick says he’s going to be a great run-pass threat in new coach Chip Kelly’s offense. And he’s not going to let anyone talk him out of playing the game the way he’s meant to play it.

Vick told reporters that he tried to become more of a pocket passer in part to placate members of the media who said he wouldn’t be able to hold up to the physical challenges of playing a 16-game season if he was taking off and running regularly. Now, Vick says, he’s not going to let any outside influences stop him from being the kind of player he can be.

“You guys act like I get hurt once a week,” Vick said to reporters, via Philly.com. “You all did that to me. Made me change the way I played the game.”

Vick, whose 5,551 rushing yards are the most for any quarterback in NFL history, thinks he could have been an even better runner if he hadn’t allowed criticism of his style to hold him back.

“I think you’ve got to take on a certain mind-set that you’re going to play the game all-out,” Vick said. “If you go into a football game not wanting to get hurt or trying not to get hurt, it doesn’t allow you to play the way you want to play.”

Vick has long been viewed as the perfect quarterback to run the kind of offense that Kelly engineered at Oregon. Now he’ll get a chance to show what he can do.

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Dion Jordan wouldn’t be surprised if he missed opener

Dion Jordan AP

The Dolphins are reportedly considering keeping defensive end Dion Jordan off the field for a while longer in hopes of avoiding future setbacks from his surgically-repaired right shoulder, a decision that could mean Jordan is in street clothes when the regular season gets underway.

While Jordan admits to being “frustrated” by remaining on the sideline while his teammates are practicing in team drills and playing in preseason games, Jordan says that his first priority is getting healthy. As a result, he won’t be shocked if the regular season kicks off without him.

“Would I be surprised?” Jordan said, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It’s my body so I know when I’m ready to go or when I’m not ready to go. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all.”

While it would obviously be disappointing for the Dolphins to start the season without the third overall pick in the lineup, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Jordan is coming off of a torn labrum, which they knew when they drafted him and which they had to know there was a risk of aggravating the injury once he started playing again. If they could do things over again, they might choose to hold him out of camp a bit longer at the outset, but their best option now is proceeding cautiously so that Jordan misses a game or two rather than a sizable chunk of his rookie season.

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