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Bills announce E.J. Manuel has been cleared to return

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Maybe now Doug Marrone’s dog can come out from under the bed.

The Bills announced that rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel has been cleared to return from a knee injury. The Bills play the Steelers this week.

That’s welcome news for a team that’s been spinning the revolving door at quarterback all season, and endured the Jeff Tuel era after getting some surprisingly effective work from Thad Lewis.

Manuel suffered a knee injury Oct. 3 against the Browns, and has missed the last four games (the Bills were 1-3 during that span).

How effective he’ll be early on remains to be seen, but he was showing positive signs at the time of his injury.

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Oakland mayor issues statement regarding Raiders relocation

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 1:  Oakland Raiders fans hold signs before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders, as expected, have filed for permission to move to Las Vegas. The team’s current home, as expected, has issued a statement cloaked in political cover.

“It’s no surprise that the Raiders have filed for relocation,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said, via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal. “Oakland welcomes the chance to show them and the NFL’s other owners why Oakland is the only home for the Raiders and always will be. Our winning team of the Lott Group, the County and my colleagues on the Oakland City Council has accomplished so much in the last few months. We’ve identified the mechanisms to responsibly finance public infrastructure improvements, we have in the Lott Group a private partner prepared to finance stadium construction, and we have an entitled site for a world-class NFL stadium and new development that enhances fan experience while invigorating East Oakland’s economy.

“But this isn’t all Oakland has to offer. Oakland’s Raiders stadium will be on the most transit-accessible site in the nation, in the sixth largest television market, and in one of the wealthiest and most innovative regions in the world. But above all else, Oakland has something no other city ever will — a die-hard fan base that is loyal and true to the Raiders and wants to see them stay here in Oakland where they were founded. Only Oakland brings the Raiders and the NFL a competitive stadium proposal, along with legacy and loyalty.

“I look forward to the League giving our team a chance to compete.”

The problem is that Raiders owner Mark Davis has no desire to permit a competition to occur. And there currently aren’t, and likely won’t be, enough owners willing to block the move.

Oakland surely knows this. But they need to create the impression that they did all they could to keep the Raiders, even if there’s no way Oakland will ever be able to do enough.

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Report: Browns close to new deal with Jamie Collins

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 11:  Jamie Collins #51 of the Cleveland Browns tackles Brandon LaFell #11 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns are close to finalizing a multi-year contract with linebacker Jamie Collins, CBS Sports reported Thursday.

The report said “significant progress” has been made between the sides and that the deal will be done by the weekend.

Absent a new deal, Collins would have had hit the open market in March and would have been one of the most coveted free agents at any position. The Browns hope locking him up will be the first step in an important and busy offseason; they come out of last season with the most salary cap room of any team and hold the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

The Browns acquired Collins in a trade before the trade deadline last November. They gave up a fourth-round pick that reportedly will actually become a compensatory pick at the end of the third round. The Browns would have received a compensatory pick had Collins left via free agency.

The Patriots traded him figuring they wouldn’t be able to meet his salary demands, and Collins started all eight games he played with the Browns. He had two sacks and a forced fumble in those eight games.

Collins has 12.5 sacks and five interceptions over his four-year career. He said at the end of the season he was open to returning to the Browns but would only do so if the money was right.

A second-round pick in 2013, Collins had been a starter since his second year with the Patriots before the trade.

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49ers may have trouble hiring a G.M.

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As the 49ers continue to look for a G.M. who, as a practical matter, will be working for coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers could be facing a different set of challenges.

If control over the roster was promised to Shanahan in order to get him to take the job at a time when everyone else had bailed, the current employers of the candidates for the G.M. job could block the move, since it wouldn’t entail the typical powers of a G.M.

Throw in the perception/reality that Paraag Marathe will be involved in football operations (and possibly negotiating contracts), and more of the finalists for the G.M. job could decide to pass, in the same way that Packers executive Eliot Wolf has done.

For Wolf, why swap the opportunity to eventually (if not sooner) run the Packers’ football operation for being a third spoke in the wheel at best, a glorified scout at worst?

The other candidates will need to ask themselves those same questions, before, during, and/or after their upcoming interviews with the presumed next coach of the team. And it will be important to know whether the G.M. will indeed have final say, since that aspect of the job could be the thing that ultimately keeps the 49ers from getting the guy they want.

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Gregg Williams: No one will be more aggressive or physical than us

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 8: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams of the St. Louis Rams walks the sidelines during the second half of a pre-season game against the New Orleans Saints at the Edward Jones Dome on August 8, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Saints beat the Rams 26-24.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams says his players will love playing for him in Cleveland because they’re going to be the toughest defense in the league.

“From an attitude standpoint, they’re never going to play for anybody that’s going to let them play more attacking, more physical, more aggressive than me. I’ll back them up,” he said. “I’ve only coached two or three guys in the league that I’ve ever had to put my hand on and back up. My whole life I’ve been trying to speed up your decisions and speed up your toughness and get you to play harder, get you to play tougher, get you to play meaner, and so that will be the way.”

Of course, Williams’ coaching career was almost derailed because he was allegedly too aggressive, too physical and too mean during the Bountygate scandal in New Orleans. Asked about that, Williams quickly shut down that line of questioning.

“Yeah, we’re not here to talk about that,” Williams told reporters. “What else do you want to talk about?”

What folks in Cleveland will want to talk about is whether Williams can turn around one of the worst defenses in football. He thinks his aggressive and physical system will do just that.

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Bills hire Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator

Denver Broncos introduce new coaches Getty Images

New Bills head coach Sean McDermott has made the most important hire on his staff.

Rick Dennison will be the Bills’ offensive coordinator, the team announced.

Dennison spent the last two years as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator under Gary Kubiak but was not retained by new head coach Vance Joseph. Dennison was in his second stint as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, having also served in that role from 2006 to 2008, and he was also offensive coordinator of the Texans from 2010 to 2013.

In Buffalo, Dennison will run the offense for a new head coach who comes from the defensive side of the ball. Dennison and McDermott have never worked together, but McDermott apparently feels confident that Dennison is the right coach for the job.

Dennison joins a Bills team that has a big decision to make on whether to keep Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback. Dennison was the quarterbacks coach of the Ravens in 2014 when Taylor was in Baltimore as Joe Flacco’s backup, so that could be a sign that Taylor remains in the Bills’ offensive plans.

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Robert Kraft is still salty about #DeflateGate

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots fans who are still salty about #DeflateGate aren’t alone. The man who owns the team remains miffed, too.

“Sometimes, the league really messes up, and I think they really messed this up badly,” Robert Kraft told the New York Times as part of a broader profile. “But we’ve all agreed to subjugate our right to disrupt everything . . . I mean, we can, but we’re a partnership. There’s jealousy, there’s envy, there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair, and you have to suck it up and move on and not use it as an excuse.”

That quote from Kraft reflects plenty of truths about the debacle arising from a dynamic the league had never previously considered before an in-game complaint from the Colts two years and one day ago prompted a dusty-garage laboratory experiment with miscalibrated equipment, flawed assumptions, and ultimately an agenda to work backward and find that cheating happened even if it didn’t. All of it seemed to be fueled by lingering resentment that has set a standard that plenty of other teams can’t compete with, so they claim that the success came from something other than hard work, careful planning, and superior execution.

This year, with the Patriots generating an overall record of 16-2 despite not having Tom Brady for four games, no one can claim that anything happening other than hard work, careful planning, and superior execution. With two wins, it could culminate in Kraft, Bill Belichick, and/or Tom Brady telling Commissioner Roger Goodell to stick this in his trophy case.

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Hall of Fame obtains full Super Bowl I post-game audio

Super Bowl I - Kansas City Chiefs v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has obtained a full audio recording of the post-game show following Super Bowl I, and it’s a fascinating 30 minutes for anyone who’s interested in the history of football.

Pat Summerall, who was then 36 years old and recently retired as a player, handled the post-game proceedings and deftly showed the broadcasting talent that would make him the smoothest voice in pro football for decades to come. Summerall handled interviews with players, coaches and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had recently been named commissioner of the American Football League as well.

The Super Bowl wasn’t always called the Super Bowl back then; some referred to it as the “AFL-NFL Championship Game,” and although others used the term “Super Bowl,” it hadn’t yet been formally adopted.

One thing that stands out in listening to the broadcast is that virtually everyone took it as obvious that the NFL was a superior league to the AFL, and even though the NFL’s Packers had blown out the AFL’s Chiefs 35-10, Summerall acted surprised that the Chiefs were even able to keep it that close.

“I think if you watched, you were surprised, possibly — or possibly you knew — that Kansas City was as strong as they are,” Summerall said.

Packers coach Vince Lombardi scoffed when asked after the game whether AFL teams were on the same level as NFL teams.

“That’s a good football team and it doesn’t compare with the National Football League teams,” Lombardi said of the Chiefs. “I think the Kansas City team is a real tough football team but it doesn’t rate with the top teams in our league.”

Given that attitude, it’s unsurprising that the AFL Jets’ victory over the NFL Colts in Super Bowl III is still considered the greatest upset in the history of pro football.

Rozelle talked about the future of football with the NFL and AFL finally meeting on the same field, and he sounded particularly interested in how the two leagues would merge their rules. Rozelle said he hadn’t decided whether the two-point conversion, a staple of the AFL, would make its way to the NFL.

“One of the main ones left open was that two-point conversion,” Rozelle said. “As to the future of the two-point conversion, we’ll take it up after this summer, perhaps.”

As it turned out, the old-school NFL decided not to implement the newfangled two-point conversion until 1994.

The audio also includes Rozelle giving Lombardi the now-famous silver trophy and saying, “Vinny, this is the first Super Bowl trophy, and something Green Bay can keep — we’re going to have a new trophy each year.” That trophy, of course, continues to go to the winner of the Super Bowl each year, and now bears Lombardi’s name.

The Super Bowl I post-game audio was believed to be lost to history, as is the full TV broadcast of the Super Bowl I game. But a former production manager for an Ohio television station recently informed the Hall of Fame that he had recorded the show at the time that it aired and still had the tape. For fans of football history, that’s like finding buried treasure.

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NFL moves Commissioner’s Super Bowl press conference from Friday to Wednesday

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference prior to Super Bowl 50 at the Moscone Center West on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images) Getty Images

Super Bowl week typically ends with a Friday press conference involving the Commissioner. Although he speaks on various other occasions throughout the year (but hardly “almost every day“), there’s a different feel for the Super Bowl press conference, especially given the sheer number of reporters present and the lingering sense that a curveball, a screwball, and/or a spitball could be coming for him at any given moment.

This year, there will be a change. Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the Commissioner’s press conference has been moved from Friday to Wednesday.

As Kaplan notes, it’s a “major break” from tradition, which could mean that fewer reporters will attend, since plenty don’t arrive until the final few days of the week.

“Our overall thinking is by Friday people are really focused on the game,” NFL executive V.P. of communications Joe Lockhart told Kaplan.

I’ve been to the site of the Super Bowl every week since 2009, and that’s just not the case. Monday through Friday (and in many cases Saturday) is about everything but the game, save for the pool reports from team practices, which in most cases really don’t tell the people anything they don’t already know. The overall activity builds exponentially throughout the week, and by Friday every nook and cranny of the Super Bowl media center has maximum attendance and maximum buzz. Wednesday’s overall crowd typically a fraction of the throng that attends on Friday.

Maybe the goal is to get more people there earlier in the week. If that was the case, however, the league should have disclosed the change far earlier than precisely two weeks before the event.

The logical conclusion, then, is that the people responsible for the care and feeding of the Commissioner’s image hope to expose him to a crowd of reporters that will be smaller and, in turn, more predictable and more manageable.

There’s one major flaw in that logic. If the Patriots make it, the concentration of reporters who will be more inclined to pose tough, aggressive questions about #DeflateGate will be much greater, since the folks who cover the Patriots definitely will be there on Wednesday if the Patriots are there all week.

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Championship week PA and Florio podcast is up


It’s AFC and NFC title-game time, and the PA and Florio podcast will help get you ready for the games.

The latest edition of the half-hour-or-so discussion is available wherever podcasts can be obtained, specifically at  iTunes and audioBoom, and free of charge as always.

PA is, for those of you who ask every week, Paul Allen. He’s not the Paul Allen who owns the Seahawks; he’s the Paul Allen of KFAN and the Vikings Radio Network.

He’s also often very annoying with his over-the-top positive demeanor, which tends to bring out the worst in me.

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Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison remain out of practice for Packers

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Geronimo Allison #81 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers didn’t have a change in status for any of their injured wide receivers during Thursday’s practice.

Jordy Nelson was on the field for the second straight day, but media in Green Bay report that he wasn’t wearing pads while going through drills with his teammates. Nelson said on Wednesday that the team was still waiting to see that he was “fully functional” after breaking ribs during the Wild Card round.

Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison remained out as well with an ankle and hamstring injury respectively. Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t made a ruling about Sunday for any of them, but said that he would probably be ruling them out if it were the regular season.

“They’re still working,” McCarthy said, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They’re mentally getting ready. This is an injury threshold all three of those guys have, Jordy, Davante and Geronimo. They all have three distinctly different injuries. In the regular season mindset, I would think none of them would play in this game. But obviously this is a different time, this is a different point where we are in the season. Everybody understands what’s on the line here.”

McCarthy said the team wouldn’t look to the practice squad or outside the organization in the event all three can’t play against the Falcons. Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis are the other wideouts on the active roster with Ty Montgomery also experienced at the position in his pre-running back days and tight end Jared Cook playing a big role as a receiver.

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Several Steelers have the flu, Mike Tomlin says they’ll be fine

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 18:  Head Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates while walking off of the field after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 24-20 at Paul Brown Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

An illness is going around the Steelers’ locker room, but coach Mike Tomlin says he’s not overly concerned about it.

Four players missed practice with an illness today, and there are reportedly more than a dozen people in the Steelers facility feeling sick. Tomlin, however, said he believes everyone will be good to go in New England on Sunday.

“I’m just thankful that I’ve stayed out of the line of fire,” Tomlin said. “We’re not making excuses. There won’t be. We’ll be there, we’ll be ready to play, this is just part of normal things that happen over the course of a season”

Players who missed Wednesday’s practice with the illness were back on the practice field today, so it appears that it’s not an illness that will keep players laid up for long. The Steelers will hope to have it all out of their systems by Sunday.

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Interpreting Jim Irsay’s tweet about Andrew Luck

jim_irsay_colts_owner Getty Images

At a time when plenty of eyes had been watching the Twitter page of Colts owner Jim Irsay to see if he’ll say anything about the status of G.M. Ryan Grigson and/or coach Chuck Pagano, Irsay threw everyone a curve ball by disclosing that quarterback Andrew Luck had shoulder surgery.

There’s no requirement that the Colts disclose any information about player health until September, as they approach their regular-season opener. So why would Irsay provide that information on Twitter?

The easy answer is why does Irsay provide any revelations on Twitter? From time to time in the past, he has caused plenty of head scratching with his Twitter habits. And if he’s going to be disclosing information that he has every right to keep to himself for the next eight months, why wouldn’t he mention the status of Grigson and/or Pagano?

While it’s admittedly dangerous and at times even shocking to try to discern meaning from the words people use, here’s my take on what Irsay is saying, as it relates to Grigson and Pagano: He plans to say nothing at all about either of them.

It’s actually a smart move, if his effort to find two in the bush while still gripping a bird in the hand has, as it appears, failed. At this point, an announcement that they’ll be back would operate as indirect confirmation that they were in trouble, which would serve only to further undermine them.

So we endorse and applaud the “Flick? Flick who?” strategy. It’s the only good way out of a mess that became a mess because Irsay didn’t want to fire his current key football employees unless and until he landed new ones.

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James Harrison, Ladarius Green don’t practice Thursday

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 08:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is seen on the field after a play during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field on January 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back Le’Veon Bell wasn’t the only player to miss practice for the Steelers on Thursday.

Steelers tight end Ladarius Green returned to the practice field as a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice, the first time he’d been on the field in almost two weeks as he deals with a concussion that has kept him from playing in the team’s last four games.

Green didn’t run his streak to two straight days, although the team says the reason was illness rather than a setback with his head injury. The Steelers had four players out with a stomach bug during Wednesday’s practice and word from those around the team is that Green is dealing with the same issue.

The Steelers have grown accustomed to playing without Green this season, which likely makes linebacker James Harrison’s absence with shoulder and triceps injuries a bigger deal. Harrison practiced in full on Wednesday, a day after coach Mike Tomlin said the veteran would be limited, and Friday will bring an official designation for Sunday’s game.

Harrison has been productive in the first two rounds with 2.5 sacks and the team will be hoping he’s healthy enough to join Bud Dupree in creating pressure on Tom Brady that can keep the Patriots offense from getting in gear.

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Dolphins hire Frank Bush as linebackers coach/assistant head coach

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 02:  Defensive coordinator Frank Bush of the Houston Texans looks on during warm ups before playing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins have hired a longtime NFL assistant to fill the linebackers coach job left open when the team promoted Matt Burke to replace Vance Joseph as the team’s defensive coordinator.

The team announced that Frank Bush has been hired as the new position coach. Bush spent the last four seasons as the linebackers coach for the Rams and has been an NFL assistant since the Oilers named him to the same position in 1992. He returned to Houston after the Oilers left and spent time as the Texans’ defensive coordinator during a career that’s also featured stops with the Broncos, Cardinals and Titans.

Bush has also been named the assistant head coach, which necessitated a change in titles for Darren Rizzi. The special teams coordinator had the assistant head coach title and will now be the associate head coach under Adam Gase.

The Dolphins announced that Chris Kuper has been promoted from offensive quality control coach to assistant offensive line coach. Kuper made 79 starts at guard for the Broncos between 2006-13 and joined the Miami staff last year.

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Le’Veon Bell excused from practice for “personal reasons”

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to run through the tackle attempt cornerback Marcus Peters #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers need running back Le’Veon Bell for Sunday. Presumably, they’ll have him.

On Thursday, they didn’t; Bell wasn’t at practice. Coach Mike Tomlin told reporters that Bell was excused from practice for “personal reasons.” Tomlin also said that Bell will be ready to go on Sunday at New England.

Bell has been more than ready to go in his first two career playoff games, setting franchise single-game postseason rushing records in both of them. He had 170 yards on Sunday night in Kansas City.

Due to become a free agent in March, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers letting Bell get a sniff of the open market, even if that means applying the franchise tag to keep him in place for at least one more year.

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