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Report: Hernandez was on short leash before arrest

Hernandez Reuters

The folks at Rolling Stone have taken a close look at the life of former Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez.  The story has yet to be released, but Rolling Stone has offered up a six-pack of teases, via Deadspin.

The most significant unknown tidbit was that Hernandez already was on a short leash with coach Bill Belichick, to the point where Hernandez was “one misstep from being cut.”  The item points to “missed practices and thug-life stunts.”

That contention partially contradicts a report from Ben Volin of the Boston Globe that the Patriots had no qualms about Hernandez as a player, and that the only concerns arose from his lingering friendship with friends from his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut.  It also makes us wonder when the concerns arose, given that the Patriots gave Hernandez a $12.5 million signing bonus in August 2012.

Also, Rolling Stone reports that Hernandez was a “heavy user of angel dust” (which may or may not have been purchased from Louis Winthorpe III), that Hernandez’s paranoia prompted him to carry a gun “wherever he went,” that he “surrounded himself with a cohort of gangsters,” that his parents and “much of his extended family” had criminal records, and that his mother, Terri, cheated on Hernandez’s father before he died with a “violent drug dealer” whom she would later marry.

Finally, the report contends that former Florida coach Urban Meyer “may have helped cover up failed drug tests, along with two violent incidents — an assault and a drive-by shooting outside a local bar.”

That last part likely is a reference to an alleged assault occurring in May 2007 and the shooting from September 2007, both of which happened in Gainesville.  While the report hedges with the use of “may have,” it’s the first time anyone has suggested that Meyer had an affirmative role in keeping Hernandez’s alleged misdeeds quiet.

We’ve got a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more on this one, from Foxboro to Columbus (where Meyer now works) to points in between and beyond.

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Nick Fairley down to 305 pounds, back in starting lineup

Nick Fairley AP

The Lions released their first depth chart since the cut to 53 players on Monday and there was a change at defensive tackle.

Nick Fairley has returned to the first team after being dropped to the second rung during camp in favor of C.J. Mosley. Fairley’s ballooning waistline was given as the reason for the switch, but Fairley has reversed the trend of late. He said being benched “opened my eyes up” and he hired a chef to provide him with a week’s worth of healthier meals that he’s eaten while dropping back down to 305 pounds after getting as high as 320 earlier in camp.

“I feel a whole lot better just by not putting that bad stuff in my body,” Fairley said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You feel the energy, you feel it out there at practice.”

Fairley said he didnt think being heavier compromised his play too much, although he did say it hurt his consistency and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Fairley’s play picked up as he got healthier over the course of the preseason. That’s a good development for the Lions defense, which needs a productive Fairley to reach their optimal level of play. If the get that, it will work out well for Fairley too as he can become a free agent after the team declined its fifth-year option on his contract.

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Randall Cobb to balance punt return duties again this year

Randall Cobb AP

The Packers would love to not have to use Randall Cobb on punt returns.

But they haven’t found anyone better to do it.

According to Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, special teams coach Shawn Slocum said Cobb and Micah Hyde are the options, and Cobb’s first on the depth chart for a reason.

Before becoming an offensive star in 2012, Cobb was a solid return man, averaging 25.0 yards per kickoff and 9.9 yards per punt with two touchdowns. He only caught one punt for no gain in the preseason for no gain.

While it’s certainly a risk to put a player — especially a player in a contract year — on special teams, the Packers don’t seem to have a problem.

Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this year they had to “get away from that thinking” that they can’t use their best players on returns.

As long as Cobb can safely navigate them on his way to his wide receiver payday, he should he happy to help.

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Carter predicts one-year suspension for Irsay

Jim-Irsay-APstoryJuly-4 AP

At some point this week, the hammer could fall on Colts owner Jim Irsay, whose plea deal on DUI charges is expected to become official on Tuesday.

Prior reports suggested that Irsay could be suspended anywhere from six-to-eight games.  On Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Cris Carter called his shot, predicting a one-year suspension and a heavy fine.

On the surface, Carter doesn’t know.  At a deeper level, he’s got access to a small army of reporters and other analysts who collectively have a pretty good feeling regarding which way the proverbial wind is blowing.

A full year for Irsay would be a stunner.  But it would show that Irsay has indeed been held to a higher standard than any player, since no player has ever been suspended for a year as a result of a DUI that didn’t result in death.

Still, the fine aspect will show whether, when it comes to the money lost, the league will treat an owner like a player.  To be fair to a player in the same predicament, whatever Irsay makes from owning the team in a given year should be withheld.  That number would likely be staggering — but it would be the appropriate simulation for a one-year loss of player income that, for the player and his family, is indeed staggering.

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Lions bring back 10 of their cut players to practice squad

Emil Igwenagu AP

Some teams like to pick through players cut from other teams while filling out their practice squads while others prefer familiar faces from the summer.

The Lions are in the latter group. They’ve signed 10 players to their practice squad and all 10 were part of the team’s final cut of the preseason.

Not all of them spent a long time with the team this summer, though. Fullback Emil Igwenagu was claimed off of waivers from the Eagles after the cut to 75 players last week and showed the Lions enough that they wanted to keep him around a little bit longer. They also brought back tight end turned tackle Michael Williams, who was a seventh-round pick in 2013.

The Lions also signed guard Rodney Austin, running back George Winn, wide receiver Andrew Peacock, cornerback Mohammad Seisay, tight end Jordan Thompson, linebacker Julian Stanford, safety Nate Ness and defensive tackle Xavier Proctor.

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Alex Smith on extension: It is fair both ways

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith have reached agreement on a contract extension that is scheduled to pay Smith an average of $15.1 million over the next five years, a deal that’s structured differently from the extensions signed by Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick earlier this year.

Those deals essentially become year-to-year propositions with less guaranteed money than the $30 million Smith gets for signing a deal. There’s another $15 million guaranteed for injury only coming his way in 2015, which puts Smith in the top 10 in guarantees while his average salary falls into the middle of the pack for current quarterbacks. Smith thinks that structure is one that works well for him and the Chiefs.

“It was about something fair both ways,” Smith said, via the team’s website. “As a quarterback, you certainly don’t want to hamstring your team in any way because — I know this more than anyone — you rely so heavily on those playmakers around you. You certainly don’t want to do anything like that, but at the same time, you do want something that’s fair.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid and General Manager John Dorsey both raved about Smith’s decision making and leadership, which fits with the usual review of Smith’s intangibles being more impressive than his athletic abilities. His contract shows the Chiefs put a high value on those traits and they’ll need to use any money that might have been left on the table to make sure they are put to the best possible use by surrounding Smith with talented players.


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NFLPA supports blackout rule, too

165608616 Getty Images

The NFL and the NFLPA currently don’t agree on very much.  Recently, they’ve come together on a topic that remains largely unpopular among the league’s fan base.

According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFLPA quietly sent a letter to the FCC in July opposing the proposed elimination of the blackout rule.  The correspondence came with no press release or other comment, including no comment in response to Kaplan’s request for comment.

The AFL-CIO sent a letter opposing the elimination of the rule last week, along with a press release.

NFLPA public policy counsel Joe Briggs wrote in July that elimination of the blackout rule, which blocks local broadcast of home games if the local stadium isn’t sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, “will threaten the continued broadcast of NFL games on free, over-the-air television, hurting football fans and threatening the business model that has made NFL games so popular and widely viewed.”

The last part of the sentence proves that, even without the blackout rule, the games will remain on free, over-the-air television.  That’s what “has made NFL games so popular and widely viewed.”  Without free, over-the-air broadcasts, games become less widely viewed and the sport becomes less popular.

But still the notion persists that elimination of the blackout rule will “threaten the continued broadcast of NFL games on free, over-the-air television.”  We’ve asked the league office to help us better understand how the dominoes fall in a way that starts with the elimination of the blackout rule forcing free, over-the-air broadcast of games that haven’t been sold out and ends with the NFL fleeing from free, over-the-air broadcasts, presumably to a cable or pay-per-view model.

It appears that the NFLPA has opted to reluctantly cooperate with the effort, even if the NFLPA’s position isn’t as zealous and public as the league had hoped.  Per Kaplan, Sports Fan Coalition chairman David Goodfriend said in 2012 that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told Goodfriend that the league had asked the NFLPA to support the blackout rule, and that Smith had declined.  Asked by Kaplan whether the NFL had pushed for the NFLPA to support the cause, the league office sent an email that didn’t really address the question asked.

And so the question remains whether an eradication of the blackout rule will result in million of fans who watch TV only through the signals coming through the airwaves at no cost losing access to the nation’s most popular sport.  Without more information, it’s not unfair to assume that the NFL and the NFLPA have opted to huff and puff, knowing that ultimately no one’s TV antenna will be blown off the roof.

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Watt commits through 2021, details remain unclear

Watt AP

The headline, as it usually does, focused on the “new money.”  And with $100 million of it, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has joined an exclusive club for NFL players.

But the details of the contract remain unclear.  Whatever they are, Watt opted to take the package and commit to the team through 2021 — a year longer than the maligned contract signed by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick’s deal has turned the player’s name into a bargaining-table verb not because of the duration but because of a low amount of fully guaranteed money and a structure that gives the team an extended opportunity to walk away after any given year of the contract.  Which makes the $61 million in supposedly “guaranteed” money hardly that.

For Watt, whose deal has $51.876 million in generically guaranteed money, the question becomes how much of it is truly guaranteed at signing, and when the rest of any money guaranteed for injury only will become fully guaranteed.  For now, those details haven’t been divulged.  Which could be a hint that the fully guaranteed money isn’t anywhere close to $51.876 miliion.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, who broke the news of the deal, reports that Watt will receive $10 million to sign, along with base salaries of $907,385 in 2014 and $9.969 million in 2015.  If those salaries are fully guaranteed, that’s a shade over $20 million that counts as fully guaranteed at signing.

Watt was due to make $1.9 million this year and $6.9 million in 2015, under the fifth-year option to his rookie contract.  So he replaced $8.8 million with $20.8 million, a $12 million increase over what he was due to earn.

The official details, which undoubtedly will leak once the contract is finalized, will show what else, if anything, Watt received as fully guaranteed money in exchange for committing to the team through 2021.  There’s a very good chance that the real number will be a lot lower than $51.876 million.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Alex Smith, Jurrell Casey AP

Does it matter that QB EJ Manuel isn’t a Bills captain?

Jarvis Landry is in line for first crack at returner duties with the Dolphins.

Sebastian Vollmer is ready to play anywhere the Patriots want him.

Jets coach Rex Ryan took issue with the notion that the team gave up on WR Stephen Hill.

Rookie G John Urschel is “honored” to be on the Ravens roster.

The Bengals are watching film of Texans games to help prepare for Gary Kubiak’s offense with the Ravens.

Browns FB Ray Agnew followed his father into the NFL.

Is offense the strength of the Steelers this year?

Tania Ganguli of thinks DE J.J. Watt has earned his massive contract with the Texans.

LB Robert Mathis left a message for his Colts teammates as he started serving his suspension.

TE Clay Harbor may not be in the lineup for the Jaguars this week.

The Titans hope their new receivers bring them increased size and speed.

Broncos LB Brandon Marshall is preparing for his first NFL start.

QB Alex Smith took some ribbing from Chiefs teammates about his new contract.

The Raiders are tinkering with their offensive line.

A healthier Chargers team took the practice field on Monday.

Cowboys DT Henry Melton feels ready to go after a long ACL rehab.

LB Mathias Kiwanuka thinks the Giants have one of the league’s best defenses.

Are the expectations for the Eagles realistic?

Redskins K Kai Forbath feels competing for the job this summer made him a better player.

Bears RT Jordan Mills expects to be in the lineup this week.

It’s been an interesting ride for Lions T Tahir Whitehead.

The Packers have high hopes for their special teams this year.

T Mike Harris has been reunited with Norv Turner after joining the Vikings.

G Jon Asamoah was back at practice for the Falcons.

Panthers G Trai Turner is preparing for a tough opening game.

A look at how the Saints built their 53-man roster.

The Buccaneers defense will have their hands full with Panthers QB Cam Newton.

Cardinals CB Justin Bethel has a knack for making big plays.

The Rams will travel 16,046 miles to get to and from games this season.

A look at the 49ers’ crop of rookies.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is concerned with stopping Packers RB Eddie Lacy on Thursday.

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Dennis Allen: Derek Carr can lead us to victory

Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Raiders coach Dennis Allen says his decision to name Derek Carr the team’s starting quarterback was a simple matter of believing that Carr is the quarterback who gives his team the best chance to win.

Allen has said all offseason that Matt Schaub would be the team’s starter, but Allen now believes that Carr is the right man for Week One and beyond.

“Derek is the starting quarterback and we feel very good and very confident about where he’s at and his ability to go out and lead us to victory,” Allen said.

Allen acknowledged that Schaub isn’t happy to lose a starting job that he was told is his.

“Well, he’s disappointed,” Allen said. “I think any competitor would be. But he’s handled it like a pro and, listen, it’s not an easy situation to be in, but he’s a real pro. He’s been around football for a long time. He understands how things operate. He’s going to continue to go out and work and compete and he’ll be ready when his number is called.”

The Raiders hope they won’t have to call Schaub’s number. In Oakland, everyone hopes Carr is leading the team to victory for a long time.

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Troy Polamalu thinks Manziel package can work better than Tebow

Johnny Manziel, Marcus Trice AP

Other teams have tried to use the run-around backup quarterback as a change of pace.

But Steelers safety Troy Polamalu thinks it might actually work with the Browns and Johnny Manziel, so that’s what he’s focusing on this week.

“The thing about it, New York tried to do that with Tim Tebow a little bit,” Polamalu said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But Tebow’s a guy you have to just play and play and grind out the entire game. I don’t think Johnny is that type of guy. I think if Johnny came into the game, he would make some splashes, he doesn’t need to get into a rhythm.”

Of course, the Steelers are going to be prepping for Brian Hoyer to start and play most of the game, but that’s not as daunting as whatever curveball might get thrown.

“Regardless who’s in there, you want to go out and beat them, you want to make sure you’re playing sound football,” defensive end Brett Keisel. “I know sometimes you see someone come in and you go ‘ahhhhh’ and freak out a little bit. We need to just maintain our job, maintain the things we’ve got to do during that play call and execute.”

Now they just have to come up with a way to stop it, better than they did against Tebow in the playoffs.

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Jon Beason’s back in time to give Giants the lift they need

Jon Beason AP

Jon Beason was back on the field Monday for the first time in three months, which is the best news the team could get.

Unless he played offense, of course.

The veteran linebacker was back from an offseason toe injury, and said he was ready to play the opener.

He brings a presence that we’ve been missing,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “He’s a leader, a natural leader, an intense person, and it’s great to have him back.”

Beason was a revelation since coming over from Carolina in a trade last season (since his job was usurped by Luke Kuechly), and they rewarded him with a three-year contract extension in March.

But his injury kept him off the field since June, and he knows it’s hard to lead from the training room.

“You can’t lead if you are not in the fire with guys,” he said. “How can I tell you what to do when I am over here hanging out, drinking Gatorade with a hat on?”

“I think that they trust that I am going to be there. Obviously they are going to be smart. [But] by the end of the week, I think they will feel pretty confident that I can go out and contribute on whatever level they deem OK.”

Anything will help, especially since the defense is going to have to carry them early, while the Giants offense finds its way.

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Jets G.M. doesn’t regret corner strategy, while lacking corners

New York Giants v New York Jets Getty Images

The Jets used to employ Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie at cornerback, an essential position in Rex Ryan’s offense.

Now, they’re going to start Darrin Walls and converted safety Antonio Allen.

Jets General Manager John Idzik was asked Monday if he wished he had signed a legitimate corner.

“Well I would call Dimitri Patterson a legitimate cornerback, that’s why we signed him,” Idzik replied, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News.

Of course, since then, Patterson went AWOL, claimed the Jets lied about it, and was released, leaving them in the same spot as if they hadn’t pursued such a legitimate corner.

“We don’t look back,” Idzik said Monday. “There’s no regrets. . . .

“The team comes first in everything we do. In the end, we felt like we did what is best for the New York Jets in releasing him.”

Of course, it doesn’t help that they also are missing Dee Milliner to a high ankle sprain and rookie Dexter McDougle tore his ACL. That leaves Walls, Allen, Kyle Wlison and recent picks from the discard pile Leon McFadden and Phillip Adams to go into the season.

The only good news is they get to face Raiders rookie Derek Carr in the opener. But they better get Milliner well soon, since the next six weeks bring Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the following six weeks.

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Report: J.J. Watt, Texans agree to long-term extension

Atlanta Falcons v Houston Texans Getty Images

The Houston Texans and defensive end J.J. Watt have reportedly reached an agreement on a long-term contract extension that will keep Watt in Houston for the foreseeable future.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans and Watt agreed in principle to a deal on Monday night.

Despite having two years remaining on his rookie contract, the two sides were able to come together on terms of a contract extension.

McClain reports the deal is a six-year extension worth $100 million with $51.876 million guaranteed. It’s the largest amount of guaranteed money ever given to a defensive player, surpassing the $50 million given to Mario Williams by the Buffalo Bills.

Watt has been arguably the best defensive player in football the last two seasons. Watt has amassed 161 tackles and 31 sacks with 23 passes defended and eight forced fumbles over that span. He earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012 after posting 20.5 sacks on the year.

Watt was scheduled to make just $1.9 million in base salary this season. It’s a fairly safe assumption to believe he’s now going to make significantly more this season and into the future.

Per McClain, receiver Andre Johnson is the only other Texans player to get a new contract with two years left on his current contract.

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Alex Boone passes physical, 49ers request roster exemption

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

After sitting out the entirety of the preseason in a contract dispute with the team, guard Alex Boone reported for duty with the San Francisco 49ers after receiving a new contract from the team.

According to the Associated Press, Boone passed his physical with the team Monday. The 49ers requested a roster exemption to allow Boone to get up to speed with the team without costing them a capable player in the interim. San Francisco will likely get the exemption from the league. Players coming off suspension get similar roster exemptions as well.

The 49ers will need to make a roster move eventually to add Boone to their 53-man roster before he will be eligible to play.

San Francisco’s first-string offense struggled throughout the preseason, which surely gave Boone some added leverage in negotiations. The 49ers open the season against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

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Five questions: Green Bay Packers

Rodgers AP

Since winning the Super Bowl to cap the 2010 season, the Packers have made it back to the playoffs three straight years.  But they haven’t made it past the divisional round.

The ability to consistently contend is a testament to franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  The inability to get with a game of the Super Bowl is an indictment of the defense.  Whether Titletown’s can get close to the title game again hinges on a few questions.

How about five of them?

Yeah, five will be good.

1.  Will Aaron Rodgers stay healthy?

For his first five years as a starter, Rodgers missed only one game, due to a concussion.  Last year, a broken collarbone derailed the team’s season and nearly cost the Packers a playoff berth.

This year, Rodgers needs to avoid a similar outcome.  Which may not be easy, with the team breaking in a new center.  The rest of the line has shown signs of encouragement, however, the Packers effectively can replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, Rodgers’ safety will depend more heavily on his ability to protect himself.  (With starting center J.C. Tretter gone for multiple weeks with a knee injury, that’ll be a challenge, at least early in the season.)

If he can, the Packers can shake things up in the NFC, starting with the first game of the regular season at Seattle.  If he can’t, they’ll need Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn to do far better than Rodgers’ backups did in 2013.

2. How big of a contract year will Randall Cobb have?

Receiver Jordy Nelson got his big contract.  Receiver Randall Cobb hasn’t.  He has said he wants to earn it.

So will he?

Cobb definitely has the incentive to put up big numbers.  A lot of it depends on whether defenses shade coverage to Nelson or to Cobb, and whether Cobb can stay healthy, a year after missing 10 games due to injury.

3. Is Eddie Lacy ready for stardom?

The truly great running backs in the NFL hand can be listed on one hand.  Even if that hand has been partially reconfigured by a table saw.

The Packers believe Eddie Lacy can join them.  And he possibly can, given the manner in which he performed last year, especially after Rodgers was injured.

Much of Lacy’s ultimate production will hinge on the run-pass mix.  With the Packers inclined to throw the ball a lot, Lacy simply may not get the touches necessary to rack up the kind of yards that would allow him to join the likes of Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, and . . . and . . . .

OK, that hand can lose three fingers.

4. How much will they miss Jermichael Finley?

Lacy could get more opportunities because the passing game will be missing a key component in 2014.  Tight end Jermichael Finley is gone, and in recent weeks there has been no talk of a return, to Green Bay or elsewhere.

It’s possible that Finley has fallen quiet because his camp is pursuing that $10 million tax-free disability policy.  If/when it appears that Finley won’t be getting the money because his injury ultimately wasn’t career ending, he may decide to play.  Which doesn’t mean the Packers will decide to embrace the risk of further injury.

Regardless, they need someone to fill the void.  Currently, they simply don’t have anyone who clearly will fill Finley’s shoes.

5.  Can Julius Peppers make a difference on defense?

Last year, in his final season with the Bears, Peppers looked like something other than what he has been when he’s been at his best.  This year, the Packers are confident Peppers will be much more than he was in 2013, even though it’s his first foray in the 3-4.

The defense desperately needs it, given the loss of B.J. Raji for the year.  Peppers on one side and Clay Matthews on the other need to create mayhem in the backfield, which will help the rest of the defense be something other than it has been when it’s been at its best.

Which has been a while.

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