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Vikings claim stadium remains on course

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The stakes continue to rise in the eleventh-hour stare down over the new Vikings stadium.

The Vikings have pressed “pause” on negotiations with the Metropolitan Sports Facility Administration regarding the final details of a stadium deal, pending the resolution of a sudden investigation of team ownership following findings of fraud and civil racketeering in an unrelated New Jersey lawsuit.  Obviously, a delay in the finalization of the documents could delay the commencement of stadium construction, which in turn could delay the completion of the project.

The Vikings have issued a statement dressed as an article that explains the situation from the team’s perspective.  In it, Director of Corporate Communications Jeff Anderson writes that the project “remains on time and on budget.”

He’s right.  For now.  Eventually, however, the delay necessarily will impact the project, if the final agreements aren’t negotiated and executed.

Anderson explains that the Vikings have suspended the negotiations because the agreements at issue “are fundamental documents to this public-private partnership and should not be entered into lightly,” and that “the MSFA must feel entirely confident about the Wilfs’ ability to fulfill their stadium obligations” before moving forward.

Again, he’s right.  But this isn’t about signing the agreements.  It’s about continuing with negotiations aimed at finalizing the agreements so that they eventually can be signed.  Why not continue the negotiations so that pens can be put to paper the moment the pending investigation of the Wilfs results in an all clear?

Perhaps the Vikings fear that they’ll be squeezed into making concessions during negotiations that occur while the review of the Wilfs proceeds.  By waiting until the review has ended, the MSFA won’t be able to say, for example, “We have one lingering concern about X, and if you yield on point Y we’ll forget about it.”

Or maybe the Vikings want to force the powers-that-be to get the examination concluded quickly.  While there’s currently no reason to believe that anything tangible will be found to suggest that the deal should be unraveled, the more time the investigators have the greater the chance someone will try to justify his or her fee by making an issue out of something that shouldn’t be an issue.

Regardless, the Vikings have taken a fairly aggressive position in response to a fairly aggressive ploy from the MSFA.  It easily could devolve into a game of chicken, with the Vikings eventually flying the coop.

That’s still a long way from happening.  But it’s a lot closer than it was a month ago.

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Chargers part ways with Larry English

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The Chargers haven’t opened up training camp yet, but they’ve already decided that linebacker Larry English won’t be a member of their 53-man roster.

The team announced Tuesday that they have released English. The Chargers also announced that they have signed center Khalil Wilkes.

English was a first-round pick in 2009, but never developed into the player they hoped to get when they selected him out of Northern Illinois. English made just nine starts in his 52 appearances with the Chargers and produced 11 sacks and one forced fumble over that stretch. Injuries contributed to keeping him off the field, including a pec injury that sent him to injured reserve last season, but English wasn’t much of a factor when he was healthy.

English is not subject to waivers, so he is free to sign with any team once now that he’s been officially dropped by the Chargers.

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Dispute over Patriots’ Hernandez records resolved

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The lawyers representing former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez wanted to get a wide variety of documents from the team.  The team didn’t want to surrender certain things. A middle ground has been identified.

According to the Associated Press, attorney Michael Fee said in court on Tuesday that the dispute has been resolved.  Lawyers for both Hernandez and the Patriots declined comment.

The Patriots previously had agreed to surrender 317 pages of personnel records, but the team refused to produce a scouting report and a one-page summary of Hernandez’s pre-draft psychological assessment.

Hernandez’s lawyers have argued that the documents may contain critical information about Hernandez’s state of mind, which could be a hint that the lawyers are exploring the possibility of using some type of insanity-based defense as an alternative to arguing that Hernandez didn’t kill Odin Lloyd.

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Judge denies Rolando McClain’s request to delay trial starting Friday

Rolando McClain AP

The Cowboys traded for linebacker Rolando McClain earlier this month as they try to find options to step in for the injured Sean Lee, but it looks like he’s going to miss a little bit of his first training camp with the team.

The Associated Press reports that Judge Bill Cook Jr. ruled that McClain’s trial in Alabama on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct will not be moved from a scheduled Friday start. McClain’s attorney had requested a delay because of the conflict with Cowboys camp, but the linebacker will now either have to settle the case before Friday or miss some practice time while the case is heard.

McClain pleaded not guilty to the charges, which resulted from an April 2013 incident in Decatur, Alabama, last year.

It’s certainly not an ideal situation for McClain, who is trying to resume the football career he put on hold last season to deal with mounting legal issues stemming from his off-field behavior. Even with Lee out of the lineup, McClain faces an uphill battle in a short amount of time to show that he’s both fit enough and committed enough for the Cowboys to keep around.

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Jameel McClain carted off the field at Giants camp

Giants Camp Football AP

One of the rites of training camp season is the emergence of the cart as a harbinger of bad news.

And in Giants camp, they’re going to need a bigger one.

According to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, linebacker Jameel McClain was hauled off the field in the dreaded cart, with what appeared to be a left leg injury.

While we don’t know the severity of McClain’s problem at the moment, we know they’re already thin there, with linebacker Jon Beason on the physically unable to perform list.

Guard Brandon Mosley was also hauled off earlier. He was working with the starters after the retirement of veteran Chris Snee, and was apparently replaced with the ones by rookie Weston Richburg.

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Super Bowl champion Seahawks are at the top of PFT’s preseason rankings

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The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl by 35 points over the Denver Broncos in February. They re-signed several key players to long-term deals this offseason and suffered few significant losses to free agency this spring.

With all that in mind, the Seahawks had to come in at the top of our preseason power rankings.

The Seahawks have few questions as training camp gets set to open on Friday. Seattle’s offense has the potential to be more explosive this season with a healthy Percy Harvin in the lineup and Russell Wilson having another year of experience under his belt. The defense will remain as one of the most physically imposing units in the league with their key pieces intact and star-studded secondary locked up for the next few years.

However, the San Francisco 49ers remain directly in the rear-view mirror and the battle for NFC West should once again be must-see entertainment this fall.

Our full Seahawks preview is located here. Tell us in the poll below if you feel the Seahawks deserve the ranking we gave them heading into the season.

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Bengals don’t expect Leon Hall, Geno Atkins to be on PUP for long

Tom Brady, Geno Atkins AP

The Bengals got ready for the start of training camp on Monday by putting a slew of players on either the Physically Unable to Perform or Non-Football Injury lists.

Two of the biggest names to hit the PUP list were cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, both of whom are recovering from season-ending injuries during the 2013 season. There wasn’t much word leading up to Monday’s moves that either player was going to need to extend their rehab much longer and coach Marvin Lewis said Tuesday that the team hasn’t ruled out either player practicing before the first week of camp is out.

“Leon’s goal was to be out there the very first practice. He’ll probably achieve that goal,” Lewis said, via the team’s website. “Geno’s goal is to be out there the very first practice. I’m going to keep him from achieving that goal because I want to lay eyes on Geno for a few days. That’s what I told him yesterday. He’s going to start on PUP and as soon as he and I agree he’s ready to go in the rigors of practice, we’ll feel good about it.”

It’s the prudent direction to take since players who participate in practice are not eligible for the regular season PUP list, which requires them to wait at least six weeks before practicing, and the Bengals can remove the designation at any point during training camp.

Hall will take the conditioning test on Wednesday and he should be off the list if he performs well. If Atkins follows suit quickly, the Bengals defense will be shaping up nicely ahead of the start of the regular season.

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Weather the latest thing to keep Marcell Dareus from camp

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For all his self-inflcited problems this offseason, weather is the latest thing to keep defensive tackle Marcell Dareus from training camp.

According to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, Dareus wasn’t able to get from his court date in Alabama Monday to Rochester, N.Y. because of bad weather.

“He’ll be with our weight room staff working out as soon as he gets here,” coach Doug Marrone said.

They’re going to give him a few more days before he re-takes his conditioning test, which he failed once already. Between that and arrests for synthetic marijuana and drag racing, it’s been quite an offseason already for the former No. 3 overall pick.

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Andre Johnson sighting at NRG Stadium sparks speculation he’ll report for camp

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As the Texans and receiver Andre Johnson remain at an impasse over whether he’ll be given a chance to earn back $1 million in a squandered roster bonus, a new development suggests he’ll show up for training camp.

Unless it doesn’t.

Per multiple reports, Johnson was spotted Monday at NRG Stadium, the building in which the Texans play and the location of the team’s facilities.  Per a source with direct knowledge of the situation, however, Johnson’s visit to the building doesn’t mean he’ll be showing up for training camp.  It likewise doesn’t mean he won’t be showing up for camp.

After the offseason program ends and before the start of training camp, players are permitted to use the team facility to work out on their own, as long as no coach, trainer, or other club personnel participates in the process.  That’s possibly all that Johnson was doing — utilizing his free access to the weight room and other exercise equipment at the team facility.

So, yes, Johnson was there.  And, no, it doesn’t mean anything, one way or the other.

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Tony Dungy elaborates on his Michael Sam comments

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On Monday, the Tampa Tribune published Tony Dungy’s answer to the question of whether he would have drafted Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly-gay player.  Dungy’s 38 words triggered a flood of debate and controversy, and plenty of pointed criticism.

On Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement elaborating on his comments.  The full text of it appears here.

Dungy explains that the quotes were obtained in the aftermath of the draft, following the news that Oprah Winfrey would turn Sam’s story into a reality show.  (The plug has since been pulled on the project.)

“I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team,” Dungy says.

“I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL.  He absolutely does.

“I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process.  It should not.

“I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team.  I would not.”

Dungy notes that he had been asked those questions in the preceding three months, and that he consistently said that playing in the NFL “is, and should be, about merit.”  The question posted by the Tampa Tribune focused much more narrowly than that.

“What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams,” the former Buccaneers and Colts head coach says.  “I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.  I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction.  Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.”

While not mentioned by Dungy, Sam’s status as a marginal prospect likely was a factor in that analysis.  Some players are good enough to justify the distractions that come along with employing them, from Lawrence Taylor to Michael Vick to Ben Roethlisberger to Johnny Manziel.  Sam, the 249th selection in a 256-man draft, may not be good enough to make it.  Thus, Dungy and plenty of other coaches would choose not put on the roster bubble a player whose mere presence could be the equivalent of signing up for Hard Knocks.

And then, if/when the player is cut, the scrutiny intensifies.  “Did his teammates not accept him?”  “Was there a power struggle in the front office?”  “Is the coaching staff split?”  “Did something happen?”

Dungy is expected to talk about the situation later this week, on The Dan Patrick Show.  Until then, his statement and the context of his original comments should be considered, regardless of whether Dungy’s position is being criticized or praised.

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Bengals want to pay Dalton like Kaepernick

Dalton AP

When the real numbers of the long-term contract signed by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became available, it became apparent that any team with a potential franchise quarterback should offer the same deal.  Now.

Not surprisingly, a team widely regarded as being extremely careful with money wants to pay its potential franchise quarterback like Kaepernick.

Via Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ official website, owner Mike Brown believes Dalton’s deal should be in the Kaepernick range.  Presumably, a deal already would be done if Dalton’s camp agreed with that sentiment.

And if there was/were/whatever any doubt that the Kaepernick deal is incredibly team friendly, the Bengals’ willingness to give the same contract to a guy who hasn’t won a playoff game proves it.  A mere $13 million fully guaranteed at signing on a seven-year commitment from the player.  A very late (relatively speaking) April 1 deadline each year for dumping the player before injury-only guarantees become full guarantees.  An annual average that pays the quarterback mid-level money now and, given spikes in the salary cap, mid-level money (or worse) in the out years.  And an obligation for the player to plunk down a ton of cash for a $20 million disability policy payable to the team in the event that he suffers a career-ending injury.

So, yes, the Bengals should try to give Dalton that same contract.  And the Panthers should try to give it to Cam Newton.

And the Colts should try to give it to Andrew Luck.  And so on throughout the league as each young quarterback with franchise potential becomes eligible for a new deal.

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David Tyree joins Giants front office

New York Giants David Tyree celebrates a Getty Images

On Monday, the Giants said goodbye to a memorable player from the Tom Coughlin era when guard Chris Snee announced his retirement.

On Tuesday, they welcomed back another memorable player. The team announced that David Tyree, whose helmet-aided catch of an Eli Manning pass set up the winning score in Super Bowl XLII, will be rejoining the team as the team’s director of player development. Tyree has been working in the league office on player engagement and development and replaces former Giant Charles Way, who has moved onto a job with the league.

“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Tyree said in the team’s announcement of the hire. “I guess you could say it’s a second homecoming. I’m grateful to have an experience with Charles Way, seeing his growth, his maturity as a professional. It even, to some degree, has impacted my life personally as a professional. Then having this opportunity to fill those shoes, I’m just grateful for the foundation that’s been laid, I’m grateful to be an example and hopefully represent this great organization in the same light and continue the great atmosphere and tradition of a wonderful organization with a premier culture. I’m just thrilled to get in here and serve these players.”

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Tyree would work with players “to aid them in their continuing education, their development as young men, the opportunities in the business world and in networking.”

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T.J. Ward’s assault hearing delayed until August

T.J. Ward AP

Broncos safety T.J. Ward was scheduled for a hearing on assault charges on Tuesday in Denver, but a request from his attorney has led the court to delay the proceedings until August.

The Associated Press reports that Ward’s attorney Abraham Hutt asked the court for more time to review evidence he just received and a judge granted the request. Ward is now due back in court on August 4.

Ward faces misdemeanor assault and disturbing the peace charges as a result of an incident at PT’s All Nude Club in Denver on May 10. Ward is accused of throwing a glass mug at a bartender during a dispute about whether or not Ward was drinking from a bottle he brought with him to the club and was asked to dispose of once inside.

The Broncos signed Ward to a four-year deal this offseason and the former Brown is expected to boost the team’s defense alongside fellow free agent acquisitions DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib. He’s also expected to avoid league discipline that would stop him from performing that role.

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Five questions: Buffalo Bills

Manuel AP

The PFT Preseason Power Rankings, which provide a context for looking at the changes made since last season, will be completed later today.  (Spoiler alert:  The Seahawks are No. 1.)

So let’s start something new, aimed at providing a template for discussion and debate about a team’s prospects for the upcoming season.  For each team, I’ll ask and answer five questions for the 2014 campaign.

Hopefully, I won’t ask myself too many tough questions.

First up — the first team to camp in 2014.

1.  Is EJ Manuel ready to take a major step forward?

To be a franchise quarterback, the quarterback must play well and be able to, you know, play.  Last year, Manuel missed six of 16 games due to injury.  While not entirely the quarterback’s fault (especially when the offensive line is not too good), franchise quarterbacks won’t become or stay franchise quarterbacks if they aren’t available to play, week in and week out.

Then there’s the quality of the performance when playing.  Eleven touchdowns and nine interceptions last year.  A 58.8-percent completion percentage.  Six fumbles, three of them lost.

“Im excited,” coach Doug Marrone recently said of Manuel.  “[H]e looks good and confident, obviously its a better situation, last year we were explaining what the offense is and not really the ins and outs of things, this year were able to get more into the ins and outs of things, not just with EJ but with a lot of guys on the team with the system already being in place.”

That’s easy to say in July.  Whether Manuel has mastered “the ins and out of things” will be determined when the dust settles on the regular season, and the Bills are either in or out of the postseason field.

2.  Is Fred Jackson being phased out?

Speaking of ins and outs, running back Bryce Brown is in — and that could mean Fred Jackson will be out.  With a $2.45 million base salary, he’ll have a spot on the roster barring something unforeseen.  But will Jackson be part of a one-two punch with C.J. Spiller or that clunky third training wheel on a Spiller-Brown bicycle?

Brown, acquired from Philly after a reported effort to trade up for Ohio State tailback Carlos Hyde failed, has looked great so far in camp.  If that continues, we could see a lot of Brown this year, and in turn a lot less (and eventually no) Jackson.

3.  Was Sammy Watkins worth it?

The Bills gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to get receiver Sammy Watkins.  The all-in move has created a ton of hype and astronomical expectations.  To earn that investment, Watkins will need to become not just a potential offensive rookie of the year but a first-team All Pro.

So far, so good.  But it hasn’t gotten very far yet.  And it will be impossible to know whether Watkins can get off the line against NFL-caliber defensive backs until he has to do it in a game that counts.

For most receivers, the quality and intensity of top-level cornerbacks in bump-and-run coverage delays the breakout until year three.  Watkins could be one of the exceptions, like A.J. Green and Julio Jones were two years ago.

If the Bills hope to save jobs in the front office and on the coaching staff, the impact needs to be big enough to get the team to the postseason.

4.  What’s the deal with Marcell Dareus?

Not long after the Bills opted to exercise the fifth-year option on the Pro Bowl defensive lineman, Dareus exercised his inalienable right to screw up his life.  Twice, via arrests for possession of synthetic marijuana and drag racing.

And then came the last chapter of the trilogy, with Dareus showing up out of shape and unable to pass the conditioning test.

It’s hard to paint the Bills as shocked, especially after Dareus missed game time twice last year for violating team rules.  It also gives rise to a fair question regarding whether the Bills made the right decision three years ago taking Dareus instead of, say, A.J. Green or Julio Jones.

5.  Will the impending sale affect the team?

On the record, no coach or player or administrator will say that the process of selling the franchise will affect in any way the franchise’s performance in 2014.

Off the record, and possibly with the attachment of a polygraph machine, the folks in power will admit that they’re worried about whether they’ll lose that power by losing their jobs when the new owner decides to bring in folks hand picked by the new owner to handle the key jobs.

The folks currently holding those key jobs will keep them only if the Bills do well enough to compel the new owner to stay put.  The Bills, likely every other team, are optimistic.  Throw cold water on that, or otherwise, below.

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Report: D.J. Hayden could be placed on PUP to begin camp

DJ Hayden AP

When the Raiders begin training camp in two days, cornerback D.J. Hayden reportedly may not be a participant.

John Middlekauff of 95.7 FM “The Game” in San Francisco reports Hayden continues to recover from a lower leg injury suffered in OTAs and could be placed on PUP to start camp.

The injury has been called either an ankle injury or a foot injury in published reports, and Hayden reportedly wore a boot on the injured lower leg in offseason workouts.

The Raiders’ first-round pick in 2013, Hayden appeared in just eight games, with a groin injury ending his season. He also missed time last summer after abdominal surgery.

According to Middlekauff, Hayden may not be a “full participant” in training camp even if he isn’t placed on the reserve list.

By placing Hayden on PUP before camp, the Raiders would have the option to keep him on the list as long as needed. However, they couldn’t add him once the practices begin.

Hayden is expected to be a key part of a secondary that also includes former 49ers cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.

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Rams linebacker claims self-defense in fight with NBA player

St Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar will soon be delivering hits, but he’s claiming self-defense in an incident with an NBA player outside a South Beach nightclub.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dunbar was actually only charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and breach of peace, not battery as was mentioned in an earlier report of the incident.

According to the police report, Dunbar said he was defending himself, after an altercation with former Sacramento Kings player Donte Greene and Greene’s brother.

One of the officers responding to the incident said he was concerned for Dunbar’s safety, and after warning Greene, hit him with a taser for “approximately 6-7 seconds.”

That ended the fight, but Greene said Dunbar was assaulting his brother.

“I’m sorry, officer, but this guy has been after me for years since I got into the NBA,” Greene said in the report. “He was beating my brother and I had to do what I did.”

Dunbar got off on the wrong foot last year, as he was suspended for four games for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. This arrest will merit review by the league as well, but so far the Rams haven’t commented on the incident.

At the very least, it’s a reminder of why coaches are so glad the offseason is nearly over.

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