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Donte Whitner name change hearing set for Nov. 19

Texans 49ers Football AP

There was a report over the weekend that the ongoing shutdown of the federal government was delaying 49ers safety Donte Whitner’s bid to change his last name to Hitner.

You can blame the shutdown for the uninspected meat on your family’s dinner table or the fact that you can’t take the kids to Yellowstone, but Whitner’s name remains Whitner for other reasons. Whitner has filed a request to change his name in Ohio and Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group reports that a hearing will be held on November 19 in Cayuhoga County Probate Court.

Should Whitner’s name change application be granted, he could have Hitner on the back of his jersey for the team’s November 25 game. Selling shirts and other apparel related to the Hitner name is front and center in the application filed in Ohio.

“The requested name change will be beneficial to applicant’s career as a professional football player and in other business ventures further, the requested name does not involve potential for fraud, will not interfere with the rights of others, will not permit the applicant to avoid legal duty, and is not contrary to the public policy of this state.”

Should Whitner become Hitner, he will have to buy back remaining replica jerseys with Whitner on them before he’s allowed to put the new name on the back of his jersey. If the benefits to his career and business sidelines are as big as the name change application suggests, that would be just a drop in the bucket for the impending free agent.

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Martavis Bryant suspension becomes official

Martavis Bryant AP

We still don’t know whether the Patriots will have quarterback Tom Brady for the regular-season opener. But we now know that the Steelers won’t have two key offensive weapons due to suspension.

Running back Le’Veon Bell previously was suspended two games for violating the substance-abuse policy. Receiver Martavis Bryant has now been suspended four games for violating the substance-abuse policy.

“We are disappointed in Martavis’ actions that has led to his four-game suspension,” Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert said in a team-issued release. “It is a disappointment to our entire organization as well as our fans, but we will continue to support Martavis during his suspension. It is very unfortunate his actions have put our team in this situation to begin the year, but we are confident he will learn from his mistake and return in excellent shape in Week Five.”

It was more than a mistake; it was a series of violations of the substance-abuse policy that culminated in the four-game suspension, with Bryant consistently choosing a banned substance over football. Now, he’ll have to unequivocally choose football, or he’ll eventually face a 10-game suspension and, in time, a full-year banishment.

The Steelers apparently have chosen to stick with Bryant. Five years ago, they abruptly dumped receiver Santonio Holmes onto the Jets after Holmes was suspended four games under the substance-abuse policy.

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49ers to put center Daniel Kilgore on reserve/PUP

Daniel Kilgore AP

The 49ers hope to get center Daniel Kilgore back on the field this season, but it won’t be for at least the first six weeks.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers informed Kilgore he’d be placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which will be part of their roster moves to get to the 75-man limit by Tuesday’s deadline.

The move makes Kilgore ineligible for at least the first six weeks of the season. There’s then a five-week window for him to begin practicing, and from the day he starts, the team has three weeks to make a roster decision.

Kilgore suffered a broken leg last season, but needed follow-up surgery in June, and is still wearing a walking boot, so he doesn’t appear to be close to a return.

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Fred Jackson would have “done anything” to retire with Bills

Fred Jackson AP

We’ve heard from Bills G.M. Doug Whaley regarding the decision to part ways with running back Fred Jackson after 10 years with franchise. We’ve yet to hear from Jackson.

But here’s what PFT has heard, given that Whaley didn’t really say much regarding the decision to move on from Jackson.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Jackson would have “done anything” to retire with the Bills. Jackson, however, wasn’t given that chance.

In meeting with the media, Whaley answered questions but said nothing, citing “competitive reasons” for not elaborating on the decision to move on from Jackson.

Whaley declined to say whether the Bills tried to trade Jackson, but he acknowledged that the salary cap was part of the decision. If so, the cap number could have been reduced. Again, Jackson wasn’t given that chance.

The question now becomes whether Jackson will get that chance elsewhere. The Browns make plenty of sense, given the fact that coach Mike Pettine spent time in Buffalo as defensive coordinator. Other teams with needs in the top two spots of the depth chart make sense, too.

Still, Jackson would have more options if the decision had come earlier. While Whaley tried to paint the timing of the decision as a favor to Jackson in his effort to find a new team, the real favor would have been to let Jackson go in March, so that he could land on a team has already made other plans based on the players who were available in March.

And April. And May. And June. And July. And August 1 through August 30.

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Dave Zastudil, Lorenzo Alexander part of early cuts in Arizona

Dave Zastudil AP

Punter Dave Zastudil missed 14 games last season after suffering a groin injury in September and it looks like the two games he did play with the Cardinals will be his last with the team.

The Cardinals announced that they have released Zastudil on Monday, leaving Drew Butler as the only punter on the roster heading into the 2015 season. Zastudil spent four years with the Cardinals and has also played for the Ravens and Browns during a 12-year NFL career.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was also cut loose on Monday. Alexander spent the last two seasons in the desert and appeared in all 16 games for the team last year. He was listed as a second-teamer during the preseason, but his departure is a good reminder of how unofficial those charts are at this time of the year.

Linebacker Glenn Carson, guard Nate Isles, linebacker Edwin Jackson, linebacker Andrae Kirk, cornerback Shaq Richardson, tight end Gannon Sinclair, cornerback Darren Woodard, wide receiver Ryan Spadola and wide receiver Travis Harvey have also been dispatched, leaving the Cardinals with one move to make to get to 75 players.

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Cowboys waive five players

Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

None of the first five cuts the Cowboys made were especially notable or surprising.

Waived Monday were wide receiver Phil Bates, cornerback Robert Steeples, defensive tackle Carlif Taylor, punter Tom Hornsey and long snapper Casey Kreiter. The team still has to make more moves to meet Tuesday’s deadline for cutting the roster to 75.

All 32 teams close the preseason Thursday and must trim their rosters to the regular-season size of 53 by Saturday.

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Mike Pouncey: Everything came back good on MRI

Mike Pouncey AP

When center Mike Pouncey was forced from last weekend’s Dolphins game with a knee injury, it looked like 2015 might turn out to be a bad year for the Pouncey family.

Mike’s twin Maurkice will miss much of the Steelers season after breaking a bone in his ankle and it looked like it could be bad when the Dolphins center had someone crash into his leg while he was standing up during a play. Sunday’s release of J.D. Walton seemed to signal the news wouldn’t be too negative, however, and Pouncey confirmed that the MRI of his knee showed no serious damage.

“Yeah, definitely, it always is [a relief] when you go through evaluations on stuff like that,” Pouncey said in comments distributed by the team. “Everything came back good, so I’m ready to go.”

Pouncey practiced on Monday, so the level of concern about aggravating the injury is pretty low and all is on track for Pouncey to be snapping the ball in Week One.

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Cullen Jenkins: Giants don’t respond well to adversity

Tom Coughlin AP

With safeties getting injured at a fantastic rate, Jason Pierre-Paul away from the team while his fireworks injuries heal, left tackle Will Beatty out with a pectoral injury and Victor Cruz battling a calf injury, the Giants have had a fair amount of negative turns in 2015.

One member of the team’s defensive line thinks that kind of adversity could be setting the team up for another disappointing season. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins says he has seen the team “freeze up a little bit” in the face of tough situations over the last two years and that they need to develop a confidence that “won’t be denied” if they are going to do a better job this year.

“This is the NFL,” Jenkins said, via Newsday. “No one team is just going to go out there and not have its fair share of adversity. That comes along with the game. If you know that, you know it’s required that you have to be able to respond to it. That’s what we need to do a better job with. When we get hit in the mouth or go through adversity, we don’t respond as well as we should.”

Jenkins isn’t wrong about the need for NFL teams to shrug off adversity if they are going to succeed, but talent and scheme can’t be ignored as major factors in the team’s 13-19 record over the last two years.

The Giants have seen mediocre or worse performances from their running backs, offensive line and across the defense in those 32 games which has led to changes of coordinators on both sides of the ball. They’ve also seen the last four drafts produce few high-level contributors to a roster that hasn’t found quality replacements for many of the key players from their 2011 Super Bowl championship team. Add it all up and you get three seasons out of the playoffs and increased pressure to change their fortunes this year lest sweeping changes hit the team.

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Lions activate Joique Bell, Haloti Ngata

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Two of the Lions’ most important players are finally ready to go.

The Lions announced today that they’ve activated running back Joique Bell from the physically unable to perform list and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from the non-football injury list.

Bell was the Lions’ No. 1 running back last year and is expected to be the No. 1 running back again this year, although the Lions have liked what they’ve seen in the preseason from their other runners. Veteran Theo Riddick and second-round rookie Ameer Abdullah are both expected to get significant playing time, and undrafted rookie Zach Zenner has played so well in the preseason that he’s likely to get a role in the offense as well.

The acquisition of Ngata this offseason was extremely important for the Lions after defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley all left in free agency. The Lions need Ngata to be healthy for Week One and stay healthy.

Today’s move indicates that both players will be on the field when the Lions open the season at San Diego in 13 days.

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Taking a look at the financial implications of benching RGIII

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Getty Images

So Kirk Cousins is not only the Week One starter for Washington but also the starter for the 2015 season. Which means he’ll hold the job until he loses the job.

Which means Robert Griffin III has lost the job.

So what next? His $3.269 million base salary for the fourth year of his rookie contract is fully-guaranteed without offset. If they cut him, he gets the money — undiminished by anything he’d make with another team. Throw in his $3.449 million signing bonus proration and it’s a cap number of $6.719 million.

Washington can avoid the base salary only by trading Griffin. But who would trade for that contract, especially since the fifth-year option has an injury guarantee of $16.1 million?

Indeed, Griffin still hasn’t been cleared to play. No one would consider trading for a guy who has yet to receive full clearance from an indepedent neurologist.

And that’s where the concussion and the fifth-year option intersect. Until he’s cleared, Griffin is in theory eligible for the $16.1 million in 2016. And while it would be highly unusual for Griffin to have suffered a concussion that keeps him from playing in the 2016 season, Griffin suddenly has 16.1 million reasons to have a concussion that keeps him from playing in the 2016 season.

I’m not saying Griffin will milk his current concussion for $3.269 million in 2015 and another $16.1 million in 2016, but perhaps the best way to avoid potentially owing Griffin $16.1 million next year would be to cut him now, give him a parting $3.269 million gift. That would give him a much stronger incentive to obtain clearance to play, because then he’d be able to sign with a team that gives him the chance to play.

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Texans begin whittling down roster

Reshard Cliett AP

The Texans added a player on Monday when they traded a seventh-round pick to the Broncos for tackle Chris Clark and followed that up by starting to cut their roster down to 75 players.

Sixth-round linebacker Reshard Cliett has been placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL. Cliett will rehab for the rest of the year and try his luck again in 2016.

The Texans released veteran defensive tackle Chris Neild, who missed last season after tearing his ACL during preseason with the Redskins.

They also parted ways with linebacker Jason Ankrah, wide receiver Jace Davis, defensive end Cam McLeod, wide receiver Travis Labhart, tackle Bryan Witzman, defensive tackle Cody White, tackle Aaron Adams and wide receiver Alan Bonner. They now have 80 players on their roster, leaving them with five more moves to make by Tuesday’s deadline.

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Mike Shanahan thinks Kirk Cousins is going to do just swell

Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan paces on the sideline during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Florida AP

In case you were shocked/dismayed/confused when Washington named Kirk Cousins its starting quarterback for the season, rest assured — Mike Shanahan thinks it’s a great move.

Via Dan Hellie of the NFL Network, Shanahan the Elder declared that he loved his former fourth-round pick, you know the one that came after he presided over the drafting of the deposed Robert Griffin III.

Kirk Cousins is a franchise quarterback, he will be a top 10 quarterback in this league no doubt about it,” Shanahan said.

You can practically see him rubbing his palms together and giggling as he said it, too.

The RG3 dysfunction that ended today began when Shanahan was in charge, and the relationship between coach and quarterback deteriorated quickly.

So it’s no surprise that Shanahan wants to praise his own bargain find/stick it to his former boss/dump on RG3/passive-aggressively provide cover for his own reputation.

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T.Y. Hilton in concussion protocol

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The Colts have 13 days until they open the regular season and they’ll spend part of that time hoping to hear that wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been cleared to return to action.

Coach Chuck Pagano said on Monday that Hilton is in the league’s concussion protocol after reporting symptoms of the injury following Saturday’s game against the Rams. He was subsequently evaluated by team doctors and will be monitored in the coming days. Hilton had three catches for 44 yards during the game and was probably unlikely to play in this week’s preseason finale even without the head injury.

There’s no way to guess whether Hilton will be cleared in time to face the Bills in Week One, but having two weeks to get it leaves time before the Colts will have to seriously ponder alternatives in the offense.

The concussion brings Hilton’s August to an end on a painful note, although he’ll likely remember it as a happy month thanks to the five-year, $65 million contract extension he signed a couple of weeks ago.

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Junior Galette placed on injured reserve as Washington drops to 75 players

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Robert Griffin III remains on the Redskins roster for now, but 13 other players won’t get to stick around to see how Kirk Cousins does as the team’s new starting quarterback.

The team is down to 75 players on Monday, leaving them with no other moves to make before Tuesday’s deadline to trim the roster to that number. Not all of the moves were outright departures, however.

The Redskins formally ended linebacker Junior Galette’s season by placing him on injured reserve after he tore his Achilles in practice last week. Galette signed with Washington after getting released by the Saints, but they’ll have to look elsewhere for pass rushing help alongside Ryan Kerrigan.

They released defensive back Bryan McCann and tackle Willie Smith and waived tight end Ernst Brun Jr., linebacker Dyshawn Davis, tight end Chase Dixon, cornerback Tajh Hasson, linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, cornerback Drequan Hoskey, wide receiver Tony Jones, kicker Ty Long, tight end Devin Mahina, guard Bryce Quigley and cornerback Trey Wolfe.

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Cousins: Quarterbacking in the NFL, you don’t know what will happen

the Washington Redskins play the Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Kirk Cousins spent all offseason being told he was competing with Colt McCoy for the No. 2 quarterback job, behind starter Robert Griffin III. Today Cousins learned that wasn’t the case.

So how did Cousins react when coach Jay Gruden told him this morning that he is Washington’s starting quarterback for the 2015 season?

“Welcome to quarterback in the NFL,” Cousins said. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Cousins says Griffin has always treated him well, and he believes the two of them will continue to work well together even though Griffin is now in the awkward position of having been benched for the guy who was supposed to be his backup.

“I can’t say enough about the class act Robert has been from the day I was drafted to now,” Cousins said.

Cousins added that he thinks he has a lot of work to do, and he doesn’t view earning the starting job as an end, but a beginning.

“It doesn’t feel like a finish line by any means, it feels like the work is still ahead of us,” Cousins said. “I go out and try to prove myself every time I’m out there.”

And Cousins will need to keep proving himself. Although Gruden says Cousins is the unquestioned starter, just days ago Gruden was saying that about Griffin. Cousins has to play well to put this quarterback controversy to rest.

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Dirk Koetter: Sprained ankle limiting Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston AP

After Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston limped off the field in the team’s second preseason game and didn’t return to the game, coach Lovie Smith said the decision to remove him from the game wasn’t made because of an injury.

Winston was limping on the sideline again while getting battered by the Browns pass rush on Saturday. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Monday that he is dealing with a sprained ankle that’s limiting him somewhat but isn’t going to keep him out of the lineup.

“A little bit. It’s affecting him a little but he’ll be ready to go,” Koetter said, via JoeBucsFan.com. “He’ll be full speed by Tennessee. It’s not anything he can’t play on, and shoot, even in practice, [quarterbacks coach] Mike [Bajakian] is trying to slow the drills down on the side field and Jameis won’t come out. So, we’ll get him healthy, but he’s got a sprained ankle. If you’ve ever had one, you have to move around and cut and plant. It can be painful.”

Winston doesn’t seem too concerned about the ankle, calling it, via Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune, the least of his worries as he prepares for the regular season. Left tackle Donovan Smith is also dealing with an ankle injury and the overall state of the offensive line makes it a good bet that Week One will be the next time we see either of them in a game.

 

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