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Urlacher said Bears faked injuries to slow down offenses


The history of “wink wink” injuries suffered by defensive players when no-huddle offenses are streaming down the field is a long one in the NFL, but it is usually accompanied by the kinds of denials we heard from former Giants safety Deon Grant in 2011 when he and a teammate both dropped to the ground at the same time when the Rams were driving quickly down the field.

With more offenses moving quickly, it’s something that’s probably going to continue to happen. In his new role as a talking head on FOX Sports, former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher offered a primer for how to fake injuries when he explained what the Bears defense used to do if they were in need of a breather in the middle of a possession.

On FOX Football Daily, via the Chicago Sun-Times, Urlacher explained how a coach would make a motion as if he was diving into a pool and the team’s “designated dive guy” would get “hurt.” Urlacher said the tactic was also useful early in the season when defenders might lose steam more easily. Somewhat incredulously, Urlacher also said that the tactic “wasn’t coached” while also saying it was “part of the game plan.”

It’s not a tactic that can be easily stopped on the field by a referee who has no way of assessing the severity of an injury and who shouldn’t be put in the position of making such determinations. The league can fine teams that are found to be feigning injuries as a way to stop the clock, but the Rule Book doesn’t have much teeth when it comes to enforcement.

“The Competition Committee deprecates feigning injuries, with subsequent withdrawal, to obtain a timeout without penalty. Coaches are urged to cooperate in discouraging this practice.”

Coaches are also urged to win games so that they remain employed, which means that players are going to sometimes drop to the turf with cramps that resolve themselves at a fantastic rate. Unless a team goes overboard with how much they reach for the tactic, it’s hard to see anyone getting punished for it.

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Doug Pederson not ready to give up offensive play calling

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Before Doug Pederson became the head coach of the Eagles, he spent many years as an assistant under Andy Reid and got an up-close look at a head coach who also handled offensive play calling.

Given that, it wasn’t a great surprise that Pederson chose to handle things the same way during his first season in Philadelphia or that he’s planning to keep things working the same way in Year Two. Pederson admitted that there were times in 2016 when he was too focused on offense, but says he learned from that experience and wants to hold onto the extra duty.

“I can tell you this, after going through a year of calling a full season, it’s hard to give that up,” Pederson said, via “Personally, selfishly, it’s hard to give that up. It’s fun. It’s fun and you’re in control of the game. Being a quarterback and former quarterback, you’re kind of in charge. You are. You’re calling the plays, you’re touching the ball every time. You’re a part of the game, part of the fabric of the game. It’s just hard to give that up.”

Pederson added that he will be delegating more things to offensive coordinator Frank Reich “as far as the planning” so that he can do more to manage the big picture for an Eagles team trying to improve on last year’s 7-9 record.

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Devonta Freeman contract situation lingers

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All signs have been pointing to a long-term contract for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. But with no deal happening, maybe it’s time to re-read the signs.

Maybe Freeman, who is a year away from the open market or the franchise tag (which currently outpaces market value), has decided to roll the dice. Maybe he’s willing to go year to year, like other star players facing the tag may be doing.

Whatever the case, if it were an easy negotiation it would be done by now.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests that the team “own[s] most of the chips.” We disagree (as, apparently, does Luther Campbell, the wife of Freeman’s agent).

Freeman has leverage, because he’s one year from finishing his rookie deal Sure, he’ll make only $1.8 million in 2017 without an extension. After that, though, the Falcons face a dilemma — let him become a free agent or use the tag, which was $12.1 million this year for running backs and surely will be higher next year.

The question becomes what it will take to get Freeman to trade in his 2017 pay plus the chance to hit the market or make at least $12.1 million in 2018. Whatever the Falcons have been offering, it’s apparently not enough to get him to give up the power that he has over the situation.

In the end, what Freeman wants may be enough to get the Falcons to regret offering such cheap food at their new stadium.

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Michael Vick “truly sorry for what I said” about Colin Kaepernick

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After saying this week that Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment is his own fault, Michael Vick has reconsidered.

Vick said on the Dan Patrick Show that that he’s sorry he said Kaepernick’s play and not his national anthem protest is the reason he’s been unable to find an NFL team this offseason.

“What I said, I should have never said,” Vick said. “I think it was taken out of context in regards to what I was trying to convey, but I only want to help Colin Kaepernick. I’m not a general manager, I’m not the guy who makes the decisions on getting him signed, and I’m truly sorry for what I said. I think I should have used a better choice of words.”

Vick specifically said he’s sorry he urged Kaepernick to get a haircut, saying he doesn’t think that has any bearing on Kaepernick’s situation.

“His afro has nothing to do with him being signed and I wasn’t trying to relay that message. It was more about helping him at the end of the day,” Vick said.

That’s quite a change of heart, coming after Vick received quite a bit of criticism for his comments.

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Ron Rivera: Last year a humbling experience we’ve learned from

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One of the first things that Marty Hurney did after being named the interim General Manager of the Panthers was hold a meeting with coach Ron Rivera to get up to speed on the roster.

Rivera told Albert Breer of that “it was a great exercise” to dig into the players and hear the opinions of an “observer from the outside looking in” on the makeup of the team. It also fit with the overall theme of the offseason, which Rivera said is to evaluate what went wrong last season and not waste the opportunity to use it to make sure that this year is more successful.

“I have a friend who recently had a heart attack, and I called him and said, ‘I’m so sad that this happened to you,'” Rivera said. “And he said, ‘Ron, it’s not really what happened to me, it happened for me,’ basically telling me that he had to change, there are things he had to alter. Well, it’s the same thing for us. The way he put it to me made me realize 2016 didn’t happen to us, it happened for us. It was a humbling experience, and an experience to learn and grow from. And I feel really good that we’ve grown and learned from it.”

One thing that definitely won’t be the same as last season is the start. The Panthers opened in Denver last season in a rematch of Super Bowl 50 that wound up with the same unhappy result for the Panthers. Rivera wasn’t happy about that at the time and told Breer the loss “took a lot of the wind out of our sails.”

Rivera noted that the team could have gotten back on track from there and making sure that any setbacks don’t snowball this time around will be crucial to avoiding the same outcome this time around.

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Josh McCown says the future is bright for the Jets


Jets quarterback Josh McCown is getting a little tired of hearing about how bad his team is.

McCown says the Jets, contrary to what many believe, have a competitive mix of veterans and young players who are going to play hard to win this year.

“There’s still some guys there that are pros,” McCown said on ESPN. “When you watch how a guy like Matt Forte comes in and does his job every day, Mo Wilkerson had a great spring, came in and worked hard, and our rookies coming along, Jamal Adams so impressive coming in as a rookie out of LSU, a high draft pick. So I think the future is bright for our team. We’ve got a good mix of the right guys who are willing to help the young guys learn but also committed to moving forward this year.”

McCown said he had several opportunities to be a backup this season, but the Jets were the only team willing to give him the chance to start, so that’s why he went to New York.

“I’m a competitor, but I want to go down playing, go down competing, so when somebody says ‘You’ve got a chance to compete’ where ever it is, I’m like, ‘Sign me up for that,'” McCown said. “I’m going to go out and play the best ball I’ve ever played in my career and as a team we’re going to come together and maybe buck a lot of people’s expectations.”

The good news for the Jets is that expectations are low enough they only need to win four or five games to buck a lot of people’s expectations.

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Year-to-year approach may become a trend for star players

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Before NFL players would ever  miss game checks during a work stoppage, they need to show a willingness to drive a hard bargain in other ways. Here’s one way they now can, thanks to the examples set by (of all people) Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

Star players who attract the franchise tag may now be inclined to refuse to sign long-term deals and to play on a year-to-year basis. One source with extensive experience negotiating player contracts firmly believes that this will become the trend.

If it happens, here are a few names to watch in the near term: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack, and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Consider Stafford’s situation. With a cap number of $22 million in 2017, Stafford would be eligible for a franchise tag of $26.4 million in 2018. By rule, that would move to $31.68 million in 2019 and then to $45.6 million in 2020.

That’s a three-year haul of $103.68 million.

And what’s the risk for Stafford to go one year at a time? He’ll get $16.5 million this year in salary, pushing his eight-year haul to $125 million. Unlike Cousins and Johnson, Stafford has the money to let it ride; if he suffers a career-ending injury or suddenly loses his ability to play at a high level, he’s already set, multiple lifetimes over.

Though Mack and Donald have far less in the bank (and a far greater risk of injury), a year-to-year arrangement makes sense for them, too.

For Mack, who isn’t getting a new deal this year and thus will make less than $3 million, he can pocket $13.846 million under his fifth-year option and then do the year-to-year tag dance in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Ditto for Donald, who would make $1.8 million this year and $6.892 million next year before going year-to-year under the tag.

For all three guys, the question becomes whether they’d trade the year-to-year haul for a long-term deal that has two years of fully guaranteed money before becoming a one-way street that the team exclusively controls.

Consider the record-setting (not really) contract signed by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. He traded roughly $1 million in salary this year and the franchise tag next year for $25 million in cash flow in 2017, another $22.25 million in 2018 and then, essentially, a year-to-year option held by the team.

Consider what Carr gave up. If he’d been willing to keep his salary at $1 million in 2017, he would have been eligible for $22 million (maybe more) in 2018 under the tag, a 20-percent bump (at least $26 million) in 2019, and a 44-percent increase over that ($38 million, minimum) in 2020.

That’s at least $86 million over three years, estimated conservatively. Under his current deal, Carr will make $86.5 million over the next four years, with no fully-guaranteed money at signing beyond the first $40 million.

It’s hard to call the richest contract ever (not really) a bad deal, but it’s actually kind of a bad deal in light of the alternative. If Carr had gone year to year, he’d have more money over the next four years than he’ll have — and he wouldn’t have been tied to the team for two more years at an average of $19.7 million, which will come at a time when the market for franchise quarterbacks could be well north of $30 million per year.

Maybe Carr crunched the numbers and consciously chose to take a long-term deal that is less advantageous than going year to year. Maybe the injury guarantee for 2019 influenced him, given the broken leg he suffered last last year. Regardless, it’s reasonable to say he would have been better off going year to year.

And it’s definitely reasonable to assume that more star players will seriously consider it — and that some of them will do it.

All of them, frankly, should.

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Roy Miller worked out for Dolphins

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The Dolphins took a look at some veteran help for the defensive line ahead of the start of training camp.

Mike Kaye of First Coast News reports that former Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller worked out for the team this week. Miller was released by the Jaguars in March.

Miller missed the final 10 games of last season after tearing his Achilles, but Miller said recently that he feels healthy and ready to start talking to teams about a job for the 2017 season. He was a starter throughout his four years in Jacksonville and spent four seasons with the Buccaneers to start his career, so signing with Miami would give him the full set of Florida-based teams.

It would also give the Dolphins some experience alongside Ndamukong Suh on the interior of the defensive line. 2015 second-round pick Jordan Phillips, a pair of 2017 selections and converted discus thrower Lawrence Okoye currently round out the group, but, for now, Miller and the Dolphins have not struck a deal.

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Cowboys rookie Jourdan Lewis headed to trial next week

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Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis will be in court next week instead of on the practice field.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Lewis will be expected in court Monday and Tuesday for a trial, after a hearing Thursday ended without a settlement.

The domestic violence charges against him (and a second complaint by the same woman which didn’t lead to charges) didn’t deter the Cowboys from taking the Michigan cornerback in the third round. Lewis was accused of dragging his girlfriend across the floor and grabbing her by the neck at their apartment.

Lewis has said throughout he’s innocent of the charges, and the Cowboys have defended their process of research before picking him.

Owner Jerry Jones said they “thoroughly looked at his situation” and that “We feel real good about the pick.”

“Outstanding off-the-field character throughout his life, great strength of character,” Jones said of Lewis. “We were satisfied we would be OK there.”

Of course, they’ve made a number of similar statements about other players in recent years, so the backing isn’t out of character.

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16 different players have the best-selling jersey in at least one state


You know Aaron Rodgers has the best-selling NFL jersey in Wisconsin and Marcus Mariota has it in Tennessee. But can you guess the best-selling jersey in all 50 states?

NFL Shop has released the best selling jerseys by state, and they provide an interesting glimpse into which players’ names fans are putting on their backs right now.

Tom Brady leads the way with 17 different states favoring his jersey. That includes every state in New England as well as some surprises, like Louisiana and Florida. That doesn’t mean Brady is the most popular player in all those states, just that he’s the player whose jerseys have sold the most so far this year. Drew Brees is surely more popular in Louisiana, but the fans who want his jersey already have it, while more fans are buying Brady jerseys after his latest Super Bowl MVP performance.

Up next is Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who has the best-selling jersey in 14 states. The whole West Coast is going for Lynch, as are some surprising states like Indiana and Iowa. Lynch’s return to the NFL has made his jersey a must-have for many fans.

Dak Prescott has the best-selling jersey in Texas and Oklahoma, with plenty of Cowboys fans, as well as Mississippi, where he played his college football. College football also led Clemson-turned-Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to take the jersey lead in South Carolina and North Carolina. Also owning the jersey sales lead in two states are Von Miller and Odell Beckham.

Players whose jersey sales lead in one state are Rodgers, Mariota, Adrian Peterson, Matthew Stafford, Greg Olsen, James Conner, Carson Wentz, Julio Jones and Ezekiel Elliott.

And in the biggest surprise on the map, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen has the best-selling jersey in North Dakota.

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Browns stadium may be a fire hazard

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The stadium where the Cleveland Browns play may be a fire hazard.

That’s not any sort of Factory of Sadness-style wisecrack, or a gratuitous rehashing of the Cuyahoga conflagration. According to the Associated Press, First Energy Stadium in Cleveland may have the same aluminum panels that were present on a London apartment building that became quickly engulfed in flames. Although authorities are still investigating the role of the Reynobond panels in the spread of the fire that killed 80 people, the AP item notes that the panels “are not recommended for use in buildings above 40 feet because they are combustible.”

Arconic Inc., which manufactures the Reynobond panels, identifies First Energy Stadium as a facility that utilizes the product in promotional materials.

“If the materials used on a building appear similar to a known hazard, people need to know that,” fire protection engingeer Douglas Evans told the AP. “Anybody who is inside of these buildings has a right to know.”

A spokesman for Cleveland’s mayor wouldn’t (or maybe couldn’t) say whether First Energy Stadium was built with Reynobond panels, deferring all questions “until after the investigators finish their report on the fire in London.”

For now, then, it’s unclear whether the structure poses any type of enhanced fire risk. But it’s clear that getting an answer should be a major priority for Cleveland, the Browns, and the NFL.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 12: Denver Broncos

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The Broncos lost their quarterback after the 2015 Super Bowl season. They lost their coach after last season. Coach Gary Kubiak retired with health issues a year after Peyton Manning retired.

General Manager John Elway hired Vance Joseph as head coach, with Joe Woods taking over the defense from Wade Phillips and Mike McCoy returning as offensive coordinator. The offense, which finished 27th in total offense and had the fourth-most three-and-outs, will look different with more shotgun, more power schemes and more motion, among other changes. The quarterback could change, too, with Paxton Lynch competing with Trevor Siemian for the starting job.

Whether it’s Lynch or Siemian, an improved running game should help. The Broncos signed Jamaal Charles; C.J. Anderson returns from a torn meniscus; and Denver drafted De’Angelo Henderson. They also sought to fix their offensive line, with a new position coach and three key additions.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed in Denver is the defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest points last season in keeping the Broncos competitive. Von Miller, Shane Ray, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, among others, are back. They have put an emphasis on improving their run defense after ranking 28th last season.

The defense will keep the Broncos in the hunt this season, but it all depends on the quarterback play.

Biggest positive change: The Broncos offensive line needed an overhaul after last season, and it got it. Vance Joseph hired Jeff Davidson as the position coach, and he expects to use more power blocking. The Broncos committed $24.15 million in guarantees to former Cowboys guard Ron Leary and former Raiders tackle Menelik Watson. They drafted Garett Bolles in the first round to play left tackle.

Biggest negative change: Under coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos ranked fourth in total defense and fourth in points allowed last season and first in total defense and fourth in yards allowed in 2015. Phillips left for the Rams, earning secondary coach Joe Woods a promotion. Yes, the Broncos had their issues against the run, ranking 28th, and in first-drive points, allowing 55, but General Manager John Elway said the team’s No. 1 priority was to “stay great” on defense. It is Woods’ job to keep them there.

Coaching thermometer: Vance Joseph will get a honeymoon. It might not last long seeing that the Broncos won a Super Bowl so recently, but Joseph will get time. Joseph, who was the Dolphins defensive coordinator last season, is preaching toughness and the players bought in during the offseason.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Von Miller. He’s one of the NFL’s good guys aside from, you know, wanting to kill quarterbacks. He’s got personality and a smile to match, which is why he became a face of the league after earning Super Bowl 50 MVP honors.

How they can prove us wrong: The defense figures out how to stop the run again. To that end, they got bigger in free agency, adding Domata Peko (325 pounds) and Zach Kerr (334 pounds). Rushing the passer, with Von Miller and Shane Ray, and defending the pass, with Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, remain strengths. The Broncos defense is going to keep them in games and keep them as contenders in the AFC West. How much improvement the offense shows will determine just how good the Broncos are.

The offensive line and running back positions appear improved on paper, and the Broncos still have dangerous receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Mike McCoy’s return as coordinator will help. The question remains at quarterback where Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch take their battle into training camp.

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Absent commercial break, game will start no more than 65 seconds after score

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The NFL wants to move games along, to help keep millennials from moving along to something else. The new rule book explains exactly how that will happen following a score.

A “Note” inserted after Rule 4, Section 6, Article 2 (who said the rule book is too long and complicated?) states that, after a post-touchdown try or a field goal, “the teams will have 40 seconds to align prior to the ball being made ready for play,” and that “[w]hen the 40 seconds have elapsed, the 25-second play clock will begin.”

This provision won’t apply when a commercial break happens following a try or a field goal.

It means that the kickoff and kick return teams will have to be in place before the 40 seconds expire, and that at that point the 25-second window for kicking off shall start. Which means that 65 seconds will be the maximum lag from score to kickoff, and that it could be a lot shorter than that.

 Which means that, if you’re going to hit the bathroom between score and kickoff, you may want to put a TV in there.
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Raiders, Gareon Conley talking

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Ideally, Raiders first-round cornerback Gareon Conley would know whether he’ll be charged with sexual assault before he signs a contract with the team. The ideal scenario may not be happening.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Raiders and Conley are talking. According to another source, Conley has still not learned whether he’ll face formal charges arising from an incident occurring in April.

The Raiders drafted Conley with full knowledge of the existence of the allegation. And the Raiders presumably assumed (or at least hoped) that the case would be closed (or that charges would be filed) before the opening of training camp. With eight days to go, that hasn’t happened.

So the question remains: Will the Raiders sign Conley before the case is resolved and, if so, what protections will they seek for a situation that they knew about when they made Conley the pick? The player has every right to hold firm with the position that he should get exactly what any other player would have gotten as the 24th pick in the draft. But the Raiders have every right to refuse to do that, and to move forward without him — until the team knows that he won’t be facing indictment, trial, and possibly conviction and incarceration.

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Ron Rivera: Marty Hurney is right guy for this situation


The Panthers shook things up this week by firing General Manager Dave Gettleman, but their choice of a short-term replacement ensured that they won’t be in uncharted water during the 2017 season.

Marty Hurney was introduced as the interim General Manager on Wednesday, which should prove to be an easy enough fit given Hurney’s decade as the team’s G.M. before being fired in 2012. Hurney acquired quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly and others still with the team during that span and he was on the job when coach Ron Rivera was hired, which Rivera thinks will help keep this week’s front office machinations from being “a big distraction.”

“I think right now, this is the right guy for the right time and situation,” Rivera said, via the team’s website. “He understands our culture, he understands most of these players — a lot of these players he has been around. I’m excited about it.”

Another change will come at the end of the season when the Panthers will look for a permanent replacement for Gettleman. The team’s results between now and then will likely determine whether or not that would be of greater concern for Rivera.

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No finding of guilt in Trevone Boykin probation violation case

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Seahawks quarterback Trevone Boykin has a court date in August on marijuana possession and public intoxication charges, but a probation violation arrest stemming from those charges is no longer an issue.

Boykin was arrested in March on the first two charges and arrested again the next month for violating the probation he received for a 2015 arrest in San Antonio. There was the possibility of a year of jail time as a result of that violation, but Boykin will not be serving any time.

Boykin pleaded no contest to the charge earlier this month and was fined $1,500 to close the case. Boykin’s attorney said, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune, that there was “no finding of guilt” in terms of the probation violation.

The hearing  on the other charges is set for August 22 in Dallas, which falls between two Seahawks preseason games although it is unlikely Boykin will be required to attend the preliminary courtroom session.

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