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NFL reaches $765 million settlement in concussion lawsuit

Roger Goodell AP

In a dramatic development staving off what could have been years of costly litigation, the NFL has settled lawsuits brought by 4,500 former players over brain injuries suffered on the field.

Former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator, announced that the NFL and NFL Properties will contribute $765 million to provide medical benefits and injury compensation for retired NFL players, fund medical and safety research, and cover litigation expenses. The settlement still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody.

“This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football,” Judge Phillips said in a statement. “Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed. I am deeply grateful to Judge Brody for appointing me as mediator and offering me the opportunity to work on such an important and interesting matter.”

Although $765 million is an enormous sum of money, it’s also a sum of money that the NFL, which rakes in billions each year, can afford. Some of the most dire predictions said concussion litigation could bankrupt the league, but this is a settlement that the NFL can handle. The biggest question going forward may be whether the NFL can make changes to the game to keep players safe from brain injuries in the future.

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Jeremy Hill focused on breaking more tackles this year

Cincinnati Bengals v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

After Bengals running back Jeremy Hill ran for 40 yards on 13 carries against the Buccaneers last season, he said there wasn’t a lot of running room available because the Bucs were playing eight men in the box.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson didn’t care for Hill’s read on what happened to the running game that afternoon. Jackson said that running backs are supposed to break tackles and that Hill’s “job is to run through somebody and come out the other side” regardless of what the defensive front looks like on a given play.

Getting past initial contact was a focus for Hill this offseason and Jackson said that the back did a good job laying the groundwork for better results.

“For me, it’s just getting that acceleration from the first level to the second level,” Hill said, via ESPN.com. “I’m just trying to lift my acceleration up and miss more tackles. That’s the biggest thing for me. The first guy got me down way too much last season.”

ESPN Stats and Info had Hill averaging 2.29 yards after contact during his rookie season, which was good for fourth in the league last season and helps explain why Hill became such a big part of the offense in the second half of the season. If he becomes even harder for defenses to stop this time around, the backfield work in Cincinnati may not be as balanced as Hill expected earlier this offseason.

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Brian Dixon set to go on trial during Saints’ training camp

Josh Lenz, Brian Dixon

Saints cornerback Brian Dixon may miss some of training camp as a result of his March arrest.

Dixon is scheduled to go on trial in Florida on August 3, the Times-Picayune reports. The Saints will be in training camp in West Virginia at that time.

Dixon was arrested for resisting arrest without violence after a traffic stop in Miami Beach. He has accused the arresting officers of racial bias.

As an undrafted rookie last season, Dixon became a surprisingly important player to the Saints, appearing in all 16 games.

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How much is Russell Wilson worth?

Seattle Seahawks v Washington Redskins Getty Images

In his latest interview, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson once again declined to talk about his contractual expectations. But he mentioned two salaries numbers for 2015 — $1.5 million (the amount he’s due to earn under his current contract) and $25 million.

Some have brushed it off as a random figure, plucked from the sky. Others believe it possibly reveals what Wilson is actually targeting.

The numbers came after Wilson was asked what he deserved, provoking this question from Wilson: How much would you pay me?

So we’ll put that question out to PFT Planet. How much would you pay him per year?

The options are below, and we’ll be discussing the issue during Tuesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, which also will feature phone visits from two-sport athlete Brandon Magee, former NFL player and current multimedia superstar (or something) Ross Tucker, and Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.

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Bud Dupree: We want to be the group that revives Steelers defense

Bud Dupree AP

The Steelers have a long history of riding strong defenses to playoff berths, but that trend has slowed in the last couple of years as the team has said goodbye to several fixtures of the unit without getting the same production in their place.

They’ve spent high picks on defensive players in each of the last three drafts with a particular focus on linebackers. Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree have been the team’s last three first-round selections and Dupree says that they want to be part of the core that brings about a revival of the old defensive ways in Pittsburgh.

“I want to be in that group that brings it back,” Dupree said, via Cleveland.com. “We want to bring back that hunger, that eagerness to go after the quarterback.”

Dupree said he takes particular motivation from the chance to join players like Joey Porter, Greg Lloyd and James Harrison as star outside linebackers in the Steelers system. Harrison is still around and Dupree said he’s learned a lot from the veteran about how to thrive in the NFL during their short time working together.

Expecting Dupree to turn into that kind of linebacker as a rookie may be asking too much, but the Steelers need some of their young defenders to make significant strides if there’s going to be a reprise of the old days in 2015. With a strong offense already in place, getting that would leave the team well positioned for another playoff berth.

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United Church of Christ joins effort to change Washington nickname

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The United Church of Christ usually has other business on Sundays, but they’re using their massive membership to try to get involved in the NFL.

According to John Woodrow Cox of the Washington Post, the nearly 1 million-member church is asking its members to boycott Washington’s franchise because of the nickname that many find offensive.

The Rev. Linda Jaramillo, a national officer of the church, said the name “is offensive and causes direct harmful effects to the public health and well-being of the Native American population.”

The UCC is far from the first to take that stance, but their support was noted in a joint release from the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, which has led the effort for a change.

“We applaud the United Church of Christ for taking a bold stance against the use of this demeaning and damaging racial epithet,” the statement read. “With its vote, the UCC is demonstrating that organizations and individuals can make conscious choices to demonstrate compassion and respect for their fellow man by working to eliminate this offensive, dictionary-defined slur from our nation’s vernacular.

“As religious leaders from diverse backgrounds all across America continue to speak out about the need to change this derogatory term, Washington team owner Dan Snyder should face the facts and stop clinging to this deeply offensive name. Profiting from the slurring of people of color is a choice that he is making, but we remain hopeful that he will in time come to recognize that changing the mascot is an important moral and civil rights issue that is not going away.”

Of course, Snyder has refused all such suggestions in the past, and will likely continue to until it becomes more attractive to him (financially) to do so.

But hey, as long as they’re “winning off the field,” no one really minds, or notices that they’re not winning on the field, right?

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Troy Vincent criticizes union spending on legal fees

Mike Grant, Troy Vincent AP

Plenty of people have criticized the NFL Players Association for the amount of money it spends on outside legal fees. The last group that should be criticizing the NFLPA for the money it spends on outside legal fees is the group that has compelled those expenditures by repeatedly overstepping its bounds. And the last guy from the last group that should be criticizing the NFLPA for those expenditures is a former NFLPA president who once was in line to be the executive director.

But none of that has stopped NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent from taking aim publicly at the NFLPA’s bills for outside lawyers.

“Look at the amount of money being spent on legal fees for a handful of people,” Vincent told Ashley Fox of ESPN.com. “It’s millions and millions of dollars, and we’ve got players that are hurting. We’ve got young men who don’t know how to identify a good financial adviser. Men are in transition who aren’t doing well, and yet $8-10 million a year is spent in court fees about who should make a decision on someone, who in some cases has committed a crime.

“Think about that logically. Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time and resources on the issues that are vital to our players — past, present and future — such as the players’ total wellness and growing the game together?”

But the NFL is forcing the NFLPA to spend that money, because the NFL routinely has gone too far in disciplining players — as evidenced by the ultimate outcomes in the Saints bounty scandal (where all player suspensions were overturned by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue), the Ray Rice indefinite suspension (which was overturned by a former federal judge), and the Adrian Peterson suspension (which was vacated by a federal court).

For every dollar spent by the NFLPA on lawyers, at least that same dollar (if not more) is being spent by the NFL. So couldn’t the same criticism be directed at the league for forcing litigation by not properly interpreting and applying the rules that govern the relationship between labor and management fairly and properly?

It would be different if the NFLPA were tilting at windmills. Instead, the NFLPA is hitting the bull’s-eye, far more often than not. And that’s because the NFL: (1) insists on having final say over the internal appeals process under the Personal Conduct Policy and matters regarding the integrity of the game; and (2) repeatedly exercises that power in a way that requires the union to seek relief in court.

Here’s an idea for saving money: Adopt a clean and simple internal appeals process that entails final and binding arbitration before a neutral third party in every case of player discipline. Sure, the NFL would have to sacrifice the ability to do whatever it wants to do. But the NFL has demonstrated consistently that it’s not able to do whatever it wants to do in a way that meshes with that it is legally permitted to so.

By curtailing powers that the NFL has shown an inability to responsible exercise, both sides would save millions in legal fees that could then be used, as Vincent said, “on the issues that are vital to our players — past, present and future — such as the players’ total wellness and growing the game together.”

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Michael Bennett comes closer to making his best argument for new deal

Bennett Getty Images

A year ago, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett signed a new four-year deal to stay with Seattle, after jumping to the Seahawks from the Buccaneers on a one-year contract. Now, he’s not happy with the contract he signed, and he’s not getting much sympathy from fans and the media.

On the surface, why should he? Bennett signed the contract as a free agent. If he wanted more, he should have asked for it then. Or he should have gone to a team that would have given it to him.

Bennett’s argument is falling on largely deaf ears because he’s making the wrong argument publicly. By talking recently about being signed to play one position but asked to play five, he’s getting closer to his best argument for more money.

Bennett’s best argument is that he signed the contract under the impression that he’d continue to be a part-time player, participating in roughly half the defensive snaps. Then, in the first year of his new contract, he became a full-time player, participating in nearly all of them.

During the 2014 regular season, Bennett didn’t have a problem with his increased workload.

I like playing that much,” Bennett said, via Terry Blount of ESPN.com. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m just moving around a lot and trying to make as many plays as I can. . . . When they pay you a lot of money they want you on the field all the time. That’s just how it is.”

Despite what Bennett said in December, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the disparity between Bennett’s playing time in 2013 and his playing time in 2014 is a “big factor” in the stand Bennett has taken.

That likely won’t make the Seahawks any more likely to tear up the final three years of his four-year contract, but it could make some fans understand why he’s unhappy with his current compensation level, notwithstanding what he said in December.

And if only Bennett hadn’t said what he said in December, more people would buy Bennett’s best argument for more money.

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Joique Bell: I’m going to run for more than 1,200 yards

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Sitting out the Lions offseason program after knee and Achilles surgeries didn’t do much to dim running back Joique Bell’s expectations for the upcoming season.

No Lions running back has run for 1,200 yards in a season since Barry Sanders’s final campaign in 1998, but Bell plans to end that streak. He says that total represents the floor for his 2015 production.

“I’m going to rush for over 1,200 yards,” Bell said, via MLive.com. “That’s the minimum. If I do less than that, I’ll be surprised. I’ll be disappointed. Anything more than that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

The fact that the Lions made the run game a priority in the draft by taking guard Laken Tomlinson in the first round helps Bell. The Lions kept on that track in the second round when they selected running back Ameer Abdullah, who got strong reviews in the spring for his ability to make plays as both a runner and a receiver.

If Abdullah continues to impress, that should be a good thing for the Lions Offense as a whole. It would likely cut into the amount of chances that Bell, who has averaged a hair less than four yards per carry the last two seasons, will get to run the ball, however, and that could leave Sanders as the last 1,200-yard man in Detroit for a little while longer.

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Rex reportedly more enthusiastic about Taylor than Cassel

EJ Manuel,Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel

The Bills brought in two new quarterbacks this offseason, trading for Matt Cassel and signing Tyrod Taylor. Most people figured Cassel was in line to start and Taylor was brought in to be a backup. But that may not be the case.

The Buffalo News reports that Bills coach Rex Ryan has shown greater enthusiasm for Taylor than for Cassel, that Ryan has wanted to coach Taylor for a long time and previously wanted the Jets to acquire him, and that Ryan says Taylor is the fastest quarterback in the NFL and can change games with his speed.

Ryan might be right that Taylor is the fastest quarterback in the NFL: Among all active quarterbacks, the only one who ran a faster 40-yard dash at the Combine than Taylor’s 4.51 was Robert Griffin III, and Griffin doesn’t look as fast now as he did before the knee injury at the end of his rookie year. Taylor is so impressive with the ball in his hands that at times when he was Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore, the Ravens let Taylor take snaps in the Wildcat formation, much to Flacco’s chagrin.

But Taylor has never proven himself as an NFL passer: In very limited action as a backup to Flacco, he has completed 54.3 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Both Cassel and EJ Manuel have shown more as NFL passers than Taylor has. It would be a big risk for the Bills to put such an unproven quarterback under center in Week One.

It might just be a risk Ryan is willing to take, however, on the theory that the Bills need to win games with their defense and running game, and Taylor is the quarterback on the roster whose skills are most conducive to that. Don’t be surprised if Taylor is the starter when the season starts, and Cassel is no longer on the roster at all.

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Michael Bennett: Seahawks want me to play five positions and pay me for one

Michael Bennett, Kellen Clemens AP

Michael Bennett said over the weekend that he didn’t mind staying at home in Honolulu for a little while when he was asked if he’d consider holding out of Seahawks training camp next month.

Bennett skipped voluntary work this offseason because he’s trying to get the Seahawks to address his contract for the second time in the last two years, but returned for mandatory minicamp this month. Bennett told Steve Wyche of NFL Media that it is “definitely possible” that he’ll stay away from camp while trying to make his case for a new deal.

“I know a lot of people disagree because I don’t put up all the numbers, but if you watch the games, I’m doing good things,” Bennett said. “They want me to play five positions but pay me for one.”

Bennett lines up inside and outside while playing the run and the pass for the Seahawks, although the team would surely argue that all of those can fit snugly under the position of defensive lineman. There’s no doubt that Bennett is doing good things, but those good things don’t do much to create leverage so soon after signing a contract with Seattle because they are understandably wary of what could follow with other players if they redo Bennett’s deal with three years left on it.

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Fred Smoot says “no one cares” about the gay players in NFL

New York Giants v Washington Redskins Getty Images

As Michael Sam was trying to become the first openly gay player in the NFL, it was an open secret that he was not close to being the first gay player in the NFL.

While common sense might tell you that’s the case, former Washington and Minnesota cornerback Fred Smoot told us also yesterday.

Smoot did a Reddit AMA (“Ask me anything”) yesterday, which is the verbal equivalent of taking Rob Ryan to a beer-and-appetizer buffet. You never know what you’re going to get, but you know you’re going to get a lot of it.

Via Des Bieler of the Washington Post, Smoot said that he encountered “several” gay players, adding that “everyone knew” and “no one cares.”

Of course, most gay players (and most people in the world) are more discreet about their own off-field exploits than the former first mate on the Vikings’ infamous “Love Boat” cruise.

Since that came up, Smoot mentioned that if it happened now under Roger Goodell’s watchful eye, he’d have been “banished from the league”

“Gotta be famous for something i guess,” he said.

But while Smoot’s a bit of a clown, the fact he’s so matter-of-fact about gay players in the NFL should tell us something — very few teammates would care, so long as that teammate could play.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Roy Helu, Donte Moncrief AP

How does QB Tyrod Taylor fit into the Bills’ competition at the position?

LB Jelani Jenkins breaks down some of the Dolphins’ defensive philosophies.

The Patriots have set their training camp dates.

Former Jets DL Joe Klecko thinks this year’s defense will be good, but has his doubts about QB Geno Smith.

Plotting the path to a better Ravens secondary.

Memories of Bengals founder Paul Brown remain strong inside and outside the organization.

A prediction for what the Browns will do at tight end this season.

Bill Dudley was the first star running back for the Steelers.

Texans S Lonnie Ballentine is ready to get back on the field.

Hopes are high for Colts WR Donte Moncrief in his second season.

Where are the Jaguars short on depth?

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt shares some of his training camp expectations.

Previewing the Broncos safeties for the 2015 season.

The Chiefs remembered the late Joe Delaney 32 years after his death.

C Rodney Hudson is a key piece of the remade Raiders offensive line.

T Joe Barksdale is getting acclimated to life with the Chargers.

Which rookie wide receivers have a chance to make the Cowboys?

Giants RB Rashad Jennings gives an update on what he’s up to between now and training camp.

How will John Moffitt fit in on the Eagles offensive line?

CB David Amerson is hoping to be a more productive part of the Redskins secondary this year.

Former Bears LB Brian Urlacher is doing a lot of fishing these days.

The Lions will practice at two local high schools this summer.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers needs some work on his swordsmanship.

The Vikings want more consistency from P Jeff Locke.

Five of the most memorable plays made by Falcons WR Julio Jones.

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker hopes to build on his 2014 results.

The resisting arrest trial of Saints CB Brian Dixon has been pushed back.

Buccaneers TE Tim Wright told kids in his New Jersey hometown that he proves hard work pays off.

Cardinals rookies learned about life in the NFL last week.

The desire to help provide clean water for those who need it led Rams DE Chris Long to Africa.

Rookie LB Eli Harold wants to become a leader for the 49ers.

SI.com would put Seahawks QB Russell Wilson’s legs on the perfect quarterback.

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Do the Browns intend to use Terrelle Pryor as a “slash-player”?

Terrelle Pryor AP

Before he was claimed on waivers by the Browns, quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor seemed to be wrestling with the transition, in one breath vowing to become a great receiver while in the next breath posting highlights of his practice performances as a quarterback with the Bengals. (To the chagrin of the Bengals.)

When the Browns claimed Pryor, the official release from the team made clear that he’ll “compete for a roster spot at wide receiver,” with no mention of perhaps being a change-of-pace quarterback.

That made Pryor’s recent remarks to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review even more intriguing. In saying that he will “give this slash-player deal a chance,” Pryor implied that he will be doing something more than competing for a roster spot at wide receiver, and that he’ll be doing something less than converting from quarterback to receiver.

As Gantt noted on Monday, there’s no indication that the Browns are looking at Pryor as a “slash-player.” Which means either that they aren’t and Pryor has yet to fully embrace that he won’t be taking snaps under any circumstances with the Browns — or that the Browns intend to use him in that role but that they had hoped to be discreet about it.

Coach Mike Pettine knows the value of having a specialty package for a quarterback other than the starter. Three years ago, while Pettine served as defensive coordinator with the Jets, he spoke about the value of having a base offense led by Mark Sanchez and a specialty package led by Tim Tebow.

“We’re in the ‘whatever-it-takes’ business,” Pettine said at the time. “We’re not looking for style points.  People might say, ‘Well, you’re not running a NFL-style offense.’  Yeah, so what?  We’re moving the ball, we’re scoring, we’re creating problems on defense. Because that’s what it does.  It forces you to take extra time to prepare and you can’t get that time back.”

It was odd that the Jets were so open about the plan to use Tebow, a plan that never materialized because Tebow, who is notoriously bad in practice, was so bad in practice that former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano refused to use Tebow much in games. A package for a second quarterback has a much better chance of initially succeeding if it’s unveiled with the element of surprise — like the Dolphins did to the Patriots with Ronnie Brown running the Wildcat in 2008.

As to the Browns and Pryor, there’s a chance that the team hopes to supplement starter Josh McCown not with dashes of Johnny Manziel but with flashed of Terrelle Pryor, that the Browns don’t want to publicize that plan, and that Pryor said more than he should have said by referring to himself as a “slash-type” player.

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Warrant issued for John Abraham’s arrest for misdemeanor battery

John Abraham AP

Longtime pass-rusher John Abraham might be out of the NFL, but he’s still in the news.

According to WGCL in Atlanta, Abraham was charged with battery for an incident that happened outside a strip club in February 2014.

Brookhaven police responded to a call around 4 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2015, for an assault that took place the night before at the Pink Pony on Corporate Boulevard. The alleged victim was reportedly assaulted by Abraham as he was approached by the victim to resolve an old dispute. A warrant has been obtained for Abraham’s arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge.

While the timing of the warrant is odd, the timing of the incident less so. The Pink Pony is a strip club, and strip club parking lots at 3 a.m. have been known to be the site of trouble.

Also Pers, according to Vernon Davis.

Abraham missed most of last season for the Cardinals with a concussion, likely capping a career that included 133.5 sacks in 15 total seasons, including stints with the Jets and Falcons.

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Ryan Tannehill wants to be a “big leader” for hungry Dolphins team

Miami Dolphins OTA's

It’s been a pretty good offseason for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

He saw the team trade away Mike Wallace after two frustrating seasons and add Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker at wide receiver while also signing Ndamukong Suh to anchor the defense that will try to make Miami’s offensive production stand up. Tannehill then signed a big contract extension that shows the team’s belief that he’s the right man to create that production, something that Stills said Tannehill has responded to by “taking the team on his shoulders.”

For his part, Tannehill sees a “hungry” team that he wants to lead to better results than the team has managed to achieve the last few years.

“I think we have a lot of great leaders, but I definitely consider myself a big leader on this team,” Tannehill said, via the team’s website. “As far as the franchise, they have been great to me this offseason as far as communication through free agency, through the team last year. Obviously the contract is huge. They put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, with the contract and really taking my viewpoint and my thoughts on things throughout the offseason.”

The Dolphins have been aggressive in the offseason in the past without having much to show for it come the fall. The chances of things playing out differently this time around will have much to do with Tannehill’s ability to both lead and play at a high level, which makes his embrace of his position a positive for the team.

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