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NFLPA tells players and agents that urine collection rules will be “strictly enforced”

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In what one source has described as a direct response to this week’s six-game suspension of Broncos linebacker Von Miller, the NFLPA has informed all players and agents that, moving forward, the process of collecting urine samples for drug testing will be followed more closely.

“In our efforts to improve the integrity of our collectively bargained joint drug policies, please remember that collection protocol rules, including validation of a player’s identification at the time of collection, will be strictly enforced,” the NFLPA said in an alert sent to all players and agents on Friday.

On Twitter, the NFLPA specifically mentioned that “validation of a player’s identification is required and will be strictly enforced.”

By emphasizing player identification, these messages invite speculation that Miler’s case may have involved the player sending someone else to take a drug test for him.  Per the source, that was not one of the events that transpired in Miller’s case.

The NFLPA nevertheless has pointed out, of all aspects of urine collection, the validation of player ID, which means that something like this has happened in the past with another player, or at a minimum that the NFL and the NFLPA have realized that it would be an easy way to beat the system for the many NFL players who are not widely and instantly recognizable, especially when out of uniform.

The primary flaw in the process seems to be the failure of the collectors to directly observe the player generating the sample on a consistent basis.  It’s a step that was added after Onterrio Smith introduced the term “Whizzinator” into the NFL lexicon, but with players like former Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams being suspended for providing non-human urine, it’s clear that the collectors aren’t actually watching in every case.

Likewise, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman beat a suspension because the sample collector failed to note on the official report that the player was asked to transfer the sample from a leaking cup to a new cup.

We’ve confirmed that the reduced suspension for Miller arose in part from NFL concerns regarding sample collection.  With all positive tests for PEDs potentially resolved via third-party arbitration, it becomes critical for the NFL in every case to be able to demonstrate that all procedures were followed, and that the chain of custody from player to collector to lab has no broken links.

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Kaepernick refuses “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people”

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers watches Blaine Gabbert #2 play quarterback during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

So why didn’t Colin Kaepernick stand during Friday night’s playing of the national anthem? If there was any ambiguity following his Thursday retweet linking the American and Confederate flags, there should be none now.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

As others have noted (and as PFT was informed when first becoming aware of the issue of Friday), Kaepernick hasn’t stood for the playing of the national anthem at any of his team’s three preseason games. Last night the gesture was noticed because, for the first time this year, he was wearing a uniform bearing his name and number.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” Kaepernick said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. . . . If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Because Kaepernick currently seems to be in the process of having his football taken away for football-related reasons, his decision will create less drama than if he had made it, say, three years ago, when people like Ron Jaworski were providing the ESPN washing machine days of content by declaring that Kaepernick could be one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Currently, he’s a starter who already was in an awkward posture as a member of an organization that seemed to be looking for a way to unload him via trade without hurting its leverage by sharing its true feelings about him.

The broader question becomes whether other players will become inspired by Kaepernick’s gesture and follow suit. It’s one thing for Kaepernick not to stand. It’s quite another if other players who actually will be, you know, playing this year do it.

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How will NFL respond to Kaepernick’s anthem gesture?

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For many people, the letter N-F-L and U-S-A are synonymous. And for good reason. Pro football and America have become fully intertwined, with the league constantly embracing patriotism, the military, and all of the basis tenets and ideals of being an American. Week One typically entails the display of gigantic, full-field flags held up by hundreds of people. The flag decal appears on the back of every helmet.

Heck, The Shield looks like it was cut straight from the cloth of the handiwork of Betsy Ross, with stars on a blue field and letters fashioned by rearranging the red stripes.

And so the same First Amendment right that allows Kaepernick to sit during the national anthem and to retweet a message claiming that there is no difference between the American and Confederate flags empowers anyone and everyone to criticize Kaepernick for his position. It also allows the NFL to say something, if it chooses to.

For now, only the 49ers have spoken, providing a measured statement respecting Kaepernick’s ability to not participate in the pregame ritual of honoring America and the flag to which every school kid pledges allegiance, every day. The NFL hasn’t spoken yet, but surely will.

So the question becomes what will the NFL say? Twenty years ago, the NBA suspended Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf indefinitely for refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem.

That punishment came from a clause in the NBA rule book requiring players to stand for the anthem. The NFL, per a source with knowledge of the situation, believes there is no similar mandate that applies to its players.

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Cam Newton after rough night for offense: “It’s preseason”

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) tries to escape the grasp of New England Patriots' Markus Kuhn (94) during the second half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) AP

Cam Newton took to the podium for his postgame press conference wearing a Sergio Leone-inspired hat, which was good.

It was his play, however, that covered the bad and the ugly.

After a pretty nightmarish night against the Patriots, the reigning MVP summed it up in the two most appropriate word: “It’s preseason.”

Newton was 13-of-29 passing for 100 yards and two interceptions, missing high when he missed (as he does when he hurries) but it was hardly all on him. The Panthers receivers took their turns dropping catchable balls, tipped balls became interceptions, and there were numerous mistakes that stood out because they had been so polished previously.

“Well, we took our turns making mistakes and any time that happens, you know you’re going to get those kind of results,” Newton said in comments distributed by the team. “There’s no need to panic. It just comes down to having a good week of practice and the truth of the matter is that we played a great team. You know, great players who are coached extremely well and they are very stingy. That’s all it comes down to.

“We will be better from this. I’m glad it happened. I’m not glad we lost but I’m just glad that we had an understanding that we’re not that good yet. We will be better.”

It was bad enough Ron Rivera alluded to the possibility of having starters play in Thursday’s preseason finale, though that might be an extreme reaction to what was simply an off night for the league’s highest-scoring offense. But even when asked about the absence of veteran tight end Greg Olsen Friday night, Newton said the responsibility fell to him.

“We know we’re going to have a great week of practice and it’s just eye-opening,” Newton said. “Like I said, there is no need to panic or press the panic button. But for us, we do need better production from everybody including myself. There were times in the game where I forced certain things where I shouldn’t have and I just have to be more mature and have more understanding of the offensive just to check it down, and let guys do what they do.”

Whether they play in the meaningless fourth preseason game or not, the Panthers have another significant test in two weeks at Denver. And if they want to avoid a repeat of their last meeting with the Broncos, they have a lot of issues to fix.

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Falcons working out veteran safety Dashon Goldson

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 10: Wide receiver James Jones #89 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by cornerback Will Blackmon #41 of the Washington Redskins while free safety Dashon Goldson #38 of the Washington Redskins jumps in the second quarter during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at FedExField on January 10, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons might have avoided the worst-case scenario news with safety Keanu Neal’s knee injury.

But they’re making backup plans as well.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Falcons are working out veteran safety Dashon Goldson today.

Goldson was released in March by Washington, and has had a few sniffs here and there. The 31-year-old former 49er and Buccaneers safety may be past his prime, but the Falcons might not be able to afford to be picky at the moment.

Neal’s having knee surgery after being injured Thursday night, and is expected to miss three or four weeks. The rookie from Florida was heading up a pretty thin depth chart at the position anyway, so bringing in reinforcements is reasonable.

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NFL may consider a game in Australia

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors' players Marcus Kemp, left, Steven Lakalaka and Makan Kema-Kaleiwahia, right, take advantage of the sites around Sydney to take photos at the Opera House, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, ahead of their opening college football game of the season against the California Golden Bears on Saturday. The game, with Cal designated as the home team, will be the first college football game played in Sydney and the first significant American football game played in Australia since 1999. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) AP

The 2016 college football season kicked off in Australia with Cal facing Hawaii, and the game drew enough interest that the NFL may consider a game Down Under as well.

Hawaii Athletic Director David Matlin told the Sydney Morning Herald that the NFL has been monitoring fan interest.

“Obviously [the NFL] are paying attention to this,” he said. “I think it’s a possibility. I think you have the facilities and the sports enthusiasts, so it’s a real good place for sporting events.”

With 61,247 fans attending the game in Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, the NFL is surely confident that it could sell out a game in Sydney. And the fans in Sydney showed they were willing to spend money at an American football game, with the stadium issuing an apology for not being able to meet the fans’ “unprecedented demand for food and beverage offerings, resulting in unfortunate queues,” a spokesman for ANZ Stadium said.

“We had more than 61,000 people walk into the venue just before lunchtime all wanting to eat and drink,” he said. “This created long queues that took an extended period to service. The specific demand for American-style food products that took longer to prepare – such as the 2-foot hot dogs – added to the challenges.”

The NFL’s primary market for building its fan base overseas is London, which hosts three games a year. This year a game will also be played in Mexico City, future games are planned for China, and Germany and Brazil have both been mentioned as potential hosts for NFL games. So Australia, with its population of only 24 million, is likely a lower priority, especially considering the greater logistical challenges of getting two teams there.

But Australia has shown it can host a football game, and sell a lot of tickets, a lot of beer and a lot of 2-foot hot dogs. The NFL will notice that.

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Kaepernick sits during national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

On a night that was supposed to be significant for what 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did on the field, what he didn’t do while off the field will create even bigger headlines.

During the playing of the national anthem, Kaepernick sat.

The 49ers have confirmed that Kaepernick did not stand for the anthem, and they have issued the following statement.

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony,” the team said in a statement issued to PFT. “It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

It’s unclear why Kaepernick sat. However, Kaepernick retweeted the following message on Thursday, which accompanied images of the American and Confederate flags: “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

At a time when NFL players are criticized for not speaking out on social issues, Kaepernick has provided a very significant and conspicuous gesture. As the team noted, it’s his right to do so. But given that Kaepernick opted to make a stand by sitting during the traditional pregame honoring of the country and its flag — which is so tightly woven into the DNA of the NFL — there surely will be a reaction.

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Carlos Hyde suffers concussion against Packers

San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, left, fights off a tackle by Denver Broncos defensive back Shiloh Keo during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) AP

At a time when the 49ers don’t know who their starting quarterback will be in 17 days against the Rams, there’s a chance they won’t know who their starting tailback will be, at least for a while.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Carlos Hyde suffered a concussion on Friday night against the Packers. He has been placed in the concussion protocol, which means that an independent neurologist will have to clear him to practice or to play.

Hyde was effective in the game, rushing four times for 30 yards — including a long of 27. He missed nine games due to injury in 2015.

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Kaepernick thinks he can still win the starting job

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, greets Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the end of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won 21-10. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

After a lackluster performance on Friday night in his return to the field for the first time since being benched for Blaine Gabbert last year, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed optimism regarding the possibility of reclaiming his job.

“Yeah, I think so,” Kaepernick told reporters regarding whether he thinks he can still be named the Week One starter. “I mean, that’s really up to [coach] Chip [Kelly] and the coaching staff. But in my mind I think I can go out and win it.”

Kaepernick, who completed two of six passes for 14 yards on Friday night, specifically believes he can win it by being “more productive” in the fourth preseason game. Typically, however, the starters don’t play in the fourth preseason game. So if he’s playing on Thursday night, chances are he won’t be the starter — unless Kelly decides to let Gabbert and Kaepernick continue their competition in the final preseason game.

Kaepernick added that he would have liked to have played more on Friday night, even if that meant playing behind the second-string offensive line.

“I just wanna play,” Kaepernick said.

Kelly told reporters that he has not yet set a timetable for picking a starting quarterback. The candidates are Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and (theoretically) newcomer Christian Ponder or rookie Jeff Driskel.

Kaepernick is due to earn $11.9 million this year, fully guaranteed. He’ll also earn an extra $125,000 for each game in which he’s on the active, 46-man roster. Which gives the 49ers 125,000 to deactivate him in each and every week that he isn’t the starter.

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Chip Kelly: “There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick”

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, left, and Blaine Gabbert stand on the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won 21-10. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

So what will the 49ers do with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, if he doesn’t win the starting job? They can pay him not to play, they can try to trade him, or they can cut him.

As to the last option, coach Chip Kelly told reporters after Friday night’s preseason game against the Packers: “There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick.”

Technically, the fact that there hasn’t been a conversation doesn’t mean that a conversation isn’t coming. It also doesn’t mean that the move won’t happen without a conversation. Ownership may simply decide to move on, regardless of what Kelly or anyone else thinks.

Regardless, it’s looking unlikely that Kaepernick will start Week One against the Rams or that, if he does, he’ll hold the job for very long.

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Kaepernick doesn’t do much to stake claim to starting job

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, runs with the ball as Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones pursues during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

On multiple occasions in the past, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has bedeviled the Packers. In his first game action of 2016, however, Kaepernick didn’t do much against Green Bay to gain ground on current starter Blaine Gabbert.

Kaepernick completed two of six passes for 14 yards and rushed four times for 18. The only good news for Kaepernick is that Gabbert didn’t look much better. Still, Kaepernick hardly did enough to supplant Gabbert as the starter.

At a time when a strange vibe continues to emanate from the organization and Kaepernick regarding their relationship, some (me) have speculated that Friday night was aimed in part at showcasing Kaepernick in a last-ditch effort to trade him. If, as expected, no one is interested in adding him at this stage of the calendar, the team will have to decide whether to cut him or carry him on the 53-man roster.

If he’s cut, the 49ers could save a portion of his $11.9 million guaranteed salary, since an offset would apply to whatever he makes elsewhere. If they keep him, he’ll get it all.

If he gets it all, at some point they should play him, right? The problem with playing Kaepernick is that, if he emerges from 2016 with an injury, the 49ers may not be able to cut him before next year’s base salary of $14.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on April 1.

There’s a chance, then, that they’ll put him in bubble wrap, RGIII-style, waiting for a starter elsewhere to suffer a season-ending injury but otherwise not letting Kaepernick get on the field for fear of chasing this year’s $11.9 million with another $14.5 million next year.

Regardless of how it all shakes out, the strange vibe lingers, making it hard to imagine Kaepernick ever playing another regular-season game for the team he nearly led to a Super Bowl win four years ago.

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Jay Gruden says Bryan Stork still has a decision to make

Super Bowl XLIX Media Day Fueled by Gatorade Getty Images

First Bryan Stork was supposed to be cut. Then Stork was supposed to be retiring. Then it was announced that Stork had been traded from New England to Washington.

But Stork still hasn’t reported to his new team, and we still haven’t heard from Stork directly whether he plans to play or not. And after tonight’s preseason game, Washington coach Jay Gruden indicated that he isn’t certain whether Stork will play.

Instead, Gruden said Stork will “supposedly” report for work tomorrow but has a “final decision” to make tonight.

So it may still be possible that Stork will decide not to play this season, which would void his trade and give Washington back the draft pick it sent to New England. Stork’s rights would then revert to the Patriots, who could waive him or put him on the reserve/retired list.

From all indications, Washington still thinks Stork will be on its roster. But we don’t know that for sure yet.

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Roberto Aguayo makes all his kicks on Friday night

Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) reacts after kicking a field goal against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter of an NFL football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) AP

A trying week for Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo ended on a positive note.

Aguayo made all six kicks he tried on Friday night as the Buccaneers turned in a strong showing on both sides of the ball while beating the Browns 30-13 in Tampa. Aguayo made field goals from 48, 21 and 27 yards and made all three of his extra point attempts.

That’s a sharp change from the first two weeks of preseason. Aguayo missed two field goals and an extra point, leading to much scrutiny of a player who the Buccaneers traded up to select in the second round of this year’s draft. Aguayo followed that up with more misses in Tuesday’s practice, which led to hooting and heckling from a home crowd and responses from other members of the NFL’s kicking fraternity.

All that will likely return when and if Aguayo misses a few kicks during the regular season, but, for now, a player who made 88.5 percent of his field goals and all of his extra points in college has put himself back on track.

That’s a good thing for the Bucs on a night full of them. Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards in the first half, Mike Evans had 115 receiving yards on five catches and the defense recorded nine sacks to go with Aguayo’s successful evening.

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Aaron Rodgers plays two series in his preseason debut/finale

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, right, drops back to throw as San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, left, closes in during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) AP

Aaron Rodgers looked less rusty in his preseason debut than the Packers teammates around him.

But the Packers quarterback didn’t need long to remind us who he was.

Rodgers played a quarter in his preseason debut, and led an impressive touchdown drive during his time in there, hitting Randall Cobb for the score.

On his first drive, Rodgers had to scramble around too much, as the protection wasn’t quite to regular season standards. But he used his feet to buy some time, and made a few positive plays.

The 14-play touchdown drive was a methodical one, a good day’s work for the guy who was held out of the first three preseason contests (including the Hall of Fame Non-Game). He’s probably not going to play much if at all next week in the preseason finale, as should be the case.

Rodgers finished the night 6-of-9 passing for 60 yards and the touchdown.

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Josh Gordon gives Browns a taste of what they were missing

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 07:  Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 7, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Friday night’s game against the Buccaneers hasn’t gone well overall for the Browns, but there’s been one big bright spot.

In his first game since Week 16 of the 2014 season, wide receiver Josh Gordon has provided the team with a pair of reminders of why they stuck with him through his suspension and why they reportedly asked for a healthy return from teams inquiring about trading for Gordon.

The first came on the first Browns possession of the game when Gordon beat Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes on a double move and reeled in a 44-yard catch from Robert Griffin III on one of the few dropbacks that saw the quarterback get time to throw. Gordon would then give Cleveland its first touchdown of the night in the second quarter when he used his size to beat out Grimes for a slightly underthrown ball from Griffin for a 43-yard touchdown.

They’ll have to wait out four more games to get him on the field in the regular season, but the glimpse of Gordon’s playmaking ability was a tantalizing one on Friday night.

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Bucs beating up Browns in all three phases

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter of an NFL football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) AP

The Browns’ night got off to a decent enough start when they forced a field goal on the first Buccaneers possession and then kicked one of their own after a 44-yard pass to Josh Gordon offered a reminder of what the wideout can do when he’s in the lineup.

Things have gone downhill from there. Jameis Winston has two touchdown passes, Adam Humphries returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and Robert Griffin III has been sacked four times as Tampa has built a 27-3 second quarter lead at home.

Winston has had plenty of time to throw the ball most of the night and he’s capitalized on big gains to Humphries, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, including a 34-yard touchdown to Evans in the second quarter. The run game hasn’t been quite as effective, but Winston’s 12-of-18/232-yard line makes up for any sluggishness on the ground.

The defense has kept the Browns in check and the Browns haven’t helped with errors of their own. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has an offensive pass interference, tackle Austin Pasztor wiped out a first down with a holding penalty and center Cameron Erving hasn’t looked good in the middle of Cleveland’s line.

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