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Sunday night wrap-up: Giants give it away

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Only in a Cowboys-Giants game can Tony Romo come back from an injury to lead a win, and become almost a footnote.

Romo played well enough for long enough to hang on for a 36-31 Cowboys win, despite clearly not feeling well after a second-quarter shot to the ribs. But the story was the Giants coughing up a game they had a chance to win, even after committing five turnovers.

The sixth, inside the two-minute warning, was more than they could withstand. Eli Manning’s futile chase of Brandon Carr after his third interception was symbolic of the night, the frustration of repeated errors boiled over.

Romo may or may not be completely well, he’s played with rib injuries before. But he missed just one play and threw for a pair of touchdowns, showing the kind of toughness he has so many times. It wasn’t the most efficient, as he wasn’t able to bury the game when the Giants were begging him to.

But unlike every other time the Giants have been to Jerry Jones’ new stadium, it worked.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. David Wilson was a first-round pick in 2012, taken one spot after Doug Martin.

But we may never see him again, at least carrying the ball for the Giants.

Fumbling on his second NFL carry found him a place in the doghouse last year, and fumbling twice in this year’s opener may make him a return man for the rest of his career.

He’s clearly a talented back, but he might not going to get many more chances to show it for Tom Coughlin. Ball security isn’t the only issue, as his pass protection isn’t sufficient either.

They can’t turn to Ahmad Bradshaw now, he’s a Colt. And with Andre Brown on short-term IR, it will be another few months before he can fix things.

The Giants sniffed around some veteran backs last week (working out Beanie Wells and Jonathan Dwyer among others), and it’ll be a surprise if they don’t add one this week.

2. Monte Kiffin still has it.

The Cowboys managed a grand total of 16 turnovers last year.

It looked like they were going to match it in the first half. The Cowboys forced three turnovers in the first quarter alone, picking Manning twice and forcing the first Wilson fumble.

The elder coordinator’s legacy in the NFL is well-established, but if he can keep the Cowboys playing this well — especially given the injury depleted defensive line — it might be as impressive as anything he’s done.

Turning a middling 3-4 defense to a productive 4-3 is a feat, and doing it with Nick Hayden and George Selvie instead of Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer is practically alchemy.

3. Jason Witten has it too, sort of.

The veteran tight end was caught on camera having a bit of gastro-intestinal distress, but continued to play his guts out after surrendering his pre-game meal.

Early in the game, Romo seemed to be making a conscious effort to get the ball to Miles Austin, as Dez Bryant was drawing so much attention from the Giants’ secondary.

But it didn’t take long to get the 31-year-old back into the flow. He caught 110 passes last year, but only three for touchdowns. That doesn’t appear to be case this time through, with two already.

4. It’s fun to see hustle pay off.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray finished the night with 86 rushing yards.

But his biggest contribution might have been the four points he saved when the game was in doubt.

Murray had the tackle when Giants safety Ryan Mundy picked off a Romo pass in the first quarter and returned it 91 yards.

Murray’s tackle dropped Mundy at the 1, and when the Cowboys defense held, the Giants were forced into a field goal.

It wasn’t quite Don Beebe-Leon Lett, but it was an effort play that paid off.

5. Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz isn’t playing like a guy who just got paid.

After getting his big contract this summer, the Giants’ slot receiver continued to make big plays. His 70-yard touchdown was nice, the second one was a tougher play, and the third was meaningful.

With Hakeem Nicks in a contract drive, the Giants knew they were going to have at least one highly motivated receiver. Having two could make them dangerous, and getting Rueben Randle incorporated gives them plenty of options, as long as Manning doesn’t continue throwing it to the other team.

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Ivory release continues new NFL trend

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Before the Ray Rice debacle, NFL teams would react to a player getting arrested by issuing the same kind of perfunctory statement that the Texans issued on Thursday about defensive lineman Brandon Ivory — and then waiting for the legal process to play out before taking any further action.

After the Ray Rice debacle, the Texans followed the perfunctory statement issued on Thursday with decisive action, cutting the undrafted rookie free agent who faces charges in Alabama of first-degree burglary.

Who care if he’s innocent until proven guilty or if Ivory’s agent claims he’s innocent? Ivory is destined to be placed on the Commissioner-Exempt list, which means that any NFL team that employs Ivory will have to pay him to not play until the charges are resolved, after which point they’ll quite possibly be not paying him to not play.

Unless the player is a star, there’s no reason to deal with it. For that reason, more and more teams will be quickly dropping players who are accused of any crime that could result in their placement on paid leave.

That’s another problem with the NFL’s decision to use paid leave as a way to get players charged with certain crimes off the field until their legal situations are resolved. The league contends it’s not a disciplinary move because the player still gets paid. But if the trend will be to cut any non-essential player who is facing paid leave, the player won’t be allowed to play — and he won’t be getting paid.

Regardless of how anyone feels about any player who is accused of a crime, the NFL’s decision to supplement the criminal justice system in the name of public relations must be done in a way that respects labor relations. The NFL’s current approach doesn’t properly respect the rights of all players, which eventually will force the NFL Players Association to waste more money on legal fees.

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Lions great Charlie Sanders dies at 68

charliesanders AP

Charlie Sanders, a Hall of Fame tight end and one of the greatest players in Detroit Lions history, has died at the age of 68.

Sanders recently revealed that he was battling cancer.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Sanders played his college football at Minnesota, where he was an All-Big Ten tight end and helped lead the Gophers to a share of the Big Ten title during his senior season in 1967. The Lions selected Sanders with a third-round pick in the 1968 NFL draft.

In Detroit, Sanders made an immediate impact and became a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. When he retired after the 1977 season, Sanders had the all-time franchise record for catches, with 336 in his career.

Sanders remained with the Lions organization after retiring, working as a radio commentator, a wide receivers coach, and an assistant director of player personnel. In 2007 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Antonio Gates suspended four games for PED violation

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Fireworks haven’t been going off at NFL headquarters just before July 4, but announcements of suspensions keep on coming Thursday.

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is the latest to fall under discipline from the league office. The NFL announced that Gates has been suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

“In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails,” Gates said in a statement. “I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them. As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me.”

Gates will miss games against the Lions, Bengals, Vikings and Browns before becoming eligible to return in Week Five against the Steelers. He’ll be able to take part in training camp practices and preseason games before the suspension goes into effect.

Gates had 69 catches for 821 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Chargers last season and that production at 34 may raise some eyebrows in light of Thursday’s suspension. Lardarius Green will be the likely replacement for Gates in San Diego’s first four games.

Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain and Packers defensive end Datone Jones have also had suspensions announced by the league on Thursday.

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Datone Jones suspended one game for substance abuse violation

Datone Jones AP

Yep, it’s officially a Friday news dump, even though it’s Thursday.

Packers defensive end Datone Jones became the third player suspended today, getting one game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

He follows Sheldon Richardson and Rolando McClain in getting suspensions on Thursday, before the league slides out to the Hamptons for the weekend.

Jones, the Packers 2013 first-round pick, was growing into a solid player, even though he hasn’t reached the heights of other guys drafted around him. And now, he won’t start working on it until Week Two.

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McClain, Richardson both failed to choose football

Buds Getty Images

NFL teams generally don’t care about players smoking marijuana. NFL teams care greatly when players have to choose between marijuana and football.

Most players who test positive for marijuana a single time immediately choose football over marijuana, avoiding any further positive tests and all potential discipline. For Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain and Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, they repeatedly failed to choose football.

For Richardson, it was marijuana. And the Jets, who used the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft on defensive lineman Leonard Williams, surely knew that Richardson was choosing marijuana over football enough times to worry about him missing games when they picked Williams.

For McClain, word emerged in February that he was facing a four-game fine under the substance-policy, only one violation away from a four-game suspension.

For both, they’ll have to choose football over marijuana or the next step will be a 10-game suspension. Then, a year.

For the next year, they’ll have to pass up to 10 drug tests per month to avoid further suspensions.

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Report: Sheldon Richardson suspended for marijuana use

Sheldon Richardson, Ryan Tannehill AP

The NFL announced Thursday that the Jets will open the season without defensive end Sheldon Richardson because Richardson has been suspended for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

The league does not disclose the specific violation, but Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that it is for marijuana use. Richardson issued a statement through the team when the suspension was announced and went on Twitter Thursday to offer further apologies for the suspension.

“I apologize for my mistake and for disappointing the people who mean everything to me,” Richardson wrote. “I vow to you, this will not happen again. My team will continue to push forward without me to start the season. I promise I will be there for them in every way that I can until I am able to return.”

It will be interesting to see if Richardson’s suspension impacts the Jets’ decision-making on the defensive line moving forward. Muhammad Wilkerson is in the final year of his rookie deal and stayed away from voluntary work this spring while trying to get a new one. Richardson has two year and a team option left on his deal and the Jets may warm to the idea of extending Wilkerson if the suspension gives them doubts about Richardson over the long term.

Richardson said last month that he thought Wilkerson was worth “Suh money.” His suspension may wind up pushing him closer to it.

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NFL suspends Rolando McClain four games

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain is suspended for the first four games of the regular season.

The NFL has announced that McClain was suspended for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. McClain released a statement apologizing for the suspension.

“I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake,” McClain said. “I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error. I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.”

McClain has had a series of off-field issues that nearly derailed his career in the past, but last year with the Cowboys he had a very productive season. Now his off-field problems are again becoming an issue.

The NFL likes to time the release of bad news so that it doesn’t generate too much attention, and the decision to announce the suspensions of McClain and Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson on the Thursday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend is another example of that practice. We’ll see if there’s more bad news coming before the Fourth of July.

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Texans cut Brandon Ivory

Alabama v Mississippi Getty Images

Rookie defensive tackle Brandon Ivory’s agent said that his client will be cleared of all charges related to his arrest on Wednesday.

Ivory and another man allegedly took cash and two iPads after breaking into a home in Alabama while one held an assault rifle and the other carried a knife, which resulted in first degree burglary charges for Ivory. The Texans either disagree or aren’t interested in waiting around to find out.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans have cut Ivory a day after the arrest and their statement that they were gathering facts about what happened.

Ivory was signed as an undrafted free agent after completing his career at Alabama and will likely now need to have those charges cleared in order to get a second chance at finding a job in the NFL.

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Sheldon Richardson suspended four games for substance abuse violation

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

It’s not quite 5 p.m., but the NFL has dumped some bad news just before the start of the holiday weekend.

The league has announced that Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson has been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Richardson can attend training camp and play in the preseason, but he’ll miss the first four weeks of the regular season and will be eligible to return after the team plays the Dolphins on October 4. He’ll also miss games against the Browns, Colts and Eagles.

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans,” Richardson said in a statement sent through the team. “However, words aren’t enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don’t want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won’t be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I’m able to return to the field.”

In a separate statement, coach Todd Bowles called the news “disappointing” and said that the Jets will “keep moving forward with our preparations” for the 2015 season.

Those preparations will likely include a larger role for first-round pick Leonard Williams, who will likely join Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison as the team’s top linemen until Richardson can return.

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Packers have leapfrogged Seahawks as Super Bowl favorites

Aaron Rodgers AP

Maybe a summer of Russell Wilson contract drama is rubbing off on the betting public.

Whether it’s that or the relative stability in other precincts, there’s a new Super Bowl favorite in the gambling community.

Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager at Bovada.lv, said the Seahawks no longer carried their best odds to win the title.

“The Super Bowl runner-up Seahawks had been favorite to win it all in 2016 since their loss back in February but there is very little support for them from a betting perspective,” Bradley said. “The Packers have now jumped to the favorite position at 6/1 and have seen more money than any other team. If the Hawks can get there again and win the Super Bowl, it would be the best result for the book and I do not see that changing any time soon.”

The Seahawks are still second on their list at 13/2, followed by the Colts (8/1), Patriots (9/1) and Cowboys (10/1).

And now that I’ve written my second gambling-related item of the day, it’s time to pour one out in honor of our former PFT colleague Morris Wilkening.

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Ryan Kerrigan running after offseason knee scope

Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Hoyer AP

Washington did a lot of work to upgrade their defensive line in free agency by signing Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton and Ricky Jean Francois to bolster the unit.

Their hope is that group can work well with outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on the field this fall, a development that will require Kerrigan to make a full recovery from an offseason knee scope. Kerrigan appears to be well on his way to making that recovery.

“I’m running now,” Kerrigan said, via CSN Washington. “Now it’s just about building the strength. My leg feels really good and I’m glad I got the surgery — not just for football but it makes my everyday life feel better so I’m glad I got it done. Now it’s just a matter of getting strong and getting into shape.”

Kerrigan’s presence in the lineup will benefit the Redskins as a team and it will give him a chance to make his best case for a new deal if he and the team don’t come to an agreement before the start of the season.

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NFL announces seven players eligible for supplemental draft

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In the last two years, no players have been selected in the NFL supplemental draft. This year, the NFL has announced that seven players are eligible to be selected.

However, only one is likely to be chosen: Isaiah Battle, an offensive tackle from Clemson, has a very good chance of getting picked when the supplemental draft takes place on July 9.

The league has announced that six other players are eligible as well: West Georgia defensive end Darrius Caldwell, West Georgia defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey, Houston defensive end Eric Eiland, UConn tight end Sean McQuillan, Kansas defensive back Kevin Short and North Carolina Central wide receiver/kick returner Adrian Wilkins.

Players can enter the supplemental draft if something changes with their college eligibility after the deadline to declare for the regular draft. Often when “something changes” that means the player off-field trouble, so that means supplemental prospects are viewed by NFL teams as having one strike against them already.

Battle’s talent may be sufficient that some team will overlook that one strike and draft him. The other players are likely to be passed over in the supplemental draft and attempt to sign somewhere as undrafted free agents.

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Letroy Guion waiting to hear if he’ll face league discipline

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion reached a plea deal in March that had him pay a $5,000 fine plus court costs in Florida after police found marijuana and a firearm during a February traffic stop for erratic driving.

Guion’s plea also saw the charges dropped without adjudication of guilt because he was a first-time offender, which left him free to re-sign with the Packers for one year and $2.75 million a short time later. What it didn’t leave him free of was potential discipline from the league.

Guion’s agent Seth Katz told Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com that his client has yet to hear anything from the league about a possible penalty under the league’s personal conduct policy. Demovsky adds that the Packers and Guion have been “bracing” for a one-to-four game suspension.

Guion had 62 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a starter for the Packers last season. Green Bay also re-signed B.J. Raji, who missed last season with a biceps injury.

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Jaguars still a popular bet to exceed expectations this year

Fowler AP

Many people thought the Jaguars were going to be better last year, and surprisingly, they weren’t.

But that sag to three wins notwithstanding, the Jaguars are still a popular proposition in Las Vegas.

According to Graham McKean of ESPN.com, the Jaguars surpassing the over-under of 5.5 wins is a popular bet at a number of sports books. The most money at the Westgate and 7 percent of all the bets taken at William Hill’s 100-plus operations has been on the Jaguars exceeding the over.

That comes despite the casinos’ price dropping from minus-170 to minus-145 upon the season-ending injury to first-rounder Dante Fowler.

“The reason for the move on the Jags was more [Dante] Fowler getting hurt in camp than the money. We are still very bullish on the Jags this year,” said Ed Salmons of the Westgate.

While losing Fowler hurts, the Jaguars improved offensively this offseason, adding tight end Julius Thomas and running back T.J. Yeldon. Whether that’s enough to double their win total and satisfy bettors remains to be seen.

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Mariota contract not stalled by surfing clause

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There’s a report that’s getting some traction (especially in the slow time of the NFL calendar) that the Titans and quarterback Marcus Mariota haven’t been able to work out a contract because the Titans want Mariota to agree to stop surfing, due to the risk of injury.

It’s would be intriguing debate. If Mariota were a surfer. He’s not.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation tells PFT that there’s no truth to the report, and that Mariota isn’t a surfer.

“Somebody made something up here,” the source said.

That doesn’t change the fact that Mariota doesn’t have a contract. But the impasse has nothing to do with surfing.

I’ll explain once again the likely source of the impasse in a separate post. Because it’s the slow time of the NFL calendar and we need to milk the cow judiciously.

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