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NFL morning after: Tom Brady is back

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Until Sunday, Tom Brady wasn’t just having a bad year. He was having by far the worst year of his NFL career.

Heading into Sunday’s games, the list of quarterbacks who had a higher passer rating than Brady this season included Chad Henne, Matt Schaub, Mike Glennon and Thad Lewis. Brady’s passer rating was a career-low 74.9. Brady’s completion rate was a career-low 55.7 percent. Brady’s average yards per pass was a career-low 5.9. Brady was throwing touchdowns a career-low rate, with only nine in his 307 attempts through eight games. There was talk that Brady’s hand was hurting, that he was getting old, that he couldn’t adjust to all the turnover in his receiving corps. In short, Brady stunk.

And now Brady is back.

In Sunday’s 55-31 win over the Steelers, Brady completed 23 of 33 passes for 432 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady led the Patriots to 33 first downs and 610 yards, and the 55 points were the most ever allowed by the Steelers, in the 81-year history of the franchise. It was as good a game as Brady has ever played, and it should pretty well silence any talk that there was anything wrong with Brady over the first half of the season that won’t be fixed over the second half of the season.

“It feels good,” Brady said after the game. “They don’t always go like that. That was a fun day. It was good execution. I think for the most part, that was our best day of execution. You don’t wake up in the morning and think they’re going to be like that. That was pretty sweet.”

That was pretty great. Brady was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

If workplace harassment is common in the NFL, the NFL has a problem. The odd story of Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who left the team as a result of apparent harassment from his teammates, has some people to say hazing goes on in every locker room, and it’s just a part of the culture of being a professional football player. To which I say, so what? If Martin didn’t like the way he was being treated, it was incumbent on others to stop treating him that way. And it was incumbent on the Dolphins to see to it that their employee wasn’t mistreated. The Dolphins showed they’re taking this seriously by suspending Richie Incognito for his treatment of Martin. Now it’s incumbent on the NFL to ensure that every player and every team knows that players mistreating their teammates will not be tolerated.

The NFL’s modified sudden-death overtime is great. It used to feel like such an anticlimax when an overtime game would be decided by the team that won the coin toss driving down to the 30-yard line and winning on a 48-yard field goal. The new sudden-death, which requires the team that wins the toss to score a touchdown to win on its first possession, is so much better. On Sunday Washington ran a great game-winning drive in overtime that included five plays after they were already in field goal range. A long, sustained drive is a lot more fun to watch than a short drive and a long field goal.

Yes, the Jets are improving. I was skeptical last week, when Jets owner Woody Johnson said his team was improving rapidly — days after the Jets had lost 49-9 to the Bengals. But I’ll have to eat some crow after the Jets beat the Saints on Sunday. Rex Ryan knows how to build a defense, and Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is doing a nice job of calling plays that take advantage of rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s strengths and mask some of his weaknesses as a passer. The Jets aren’t a great team, but they’re getting better.

Good call. My favorite play call of the day came in Carolina, where the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-1, lined up as if they were going to run power to the left, then had Cam Newton roll to the right and hit a wide-open Greg Olsen for a 14-yard touchdown. A great decision by head coach Ron Rivera to go for it, and a well-designed play by offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

Bad call. With the Bills leading the Chiefs 10-3 in the third quarter and facing third-and-1 at the 1-yard line, the obviously right thing to do was to play it safe, hand it off to Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller, and kick the field goal if you don’t score. Instead, the Bills let undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel, making his first NFL start, throw a pass. The result: Tuel throws it right into the hands of Chiefs defensive back Sean Smith, who picks off the pass and runs it back 100 yards. Instead of the Bills leading 17-3 or 13-3, they found themselves tied 10-10. It was a terrible decision by Tuel but an even worse decision by the Bills’ coaches to put the game in their third-string quarterback’s hands in that situation.

Ugly call. What on earth was that end-around the Saints ran on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter against the Jets? New Orleans coach Sean Payton has always been a creative offensive play caller, but sometimes he outsmarts himself. That was a prime example.

Why was Brandon Weeden ever the Browns’ starting quarterback? The Browns have now started three quarterbacks this season: Weeden had the job at the beginning of the year, then relinquished it when he hurt his thumb, then got it back after his replacement Brian Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury, then lost it to Jason Campbell. We’ve now seen enough of all three quarterbacks to make it clear: Weeden is by far the worst of the bunch. Hoyer played very well early in the season, and now Campbell has played two straight strong games, including leading the Browns to a victory over the Ravens on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine what the Browns were thinking putting Weeden ahead of both Hoyer and Campbell on the depth chart, when he’s clearly not as good as either of them. The Browns have a good defense, and they play in the weak AFC North. They don’t need a great quarterback to win their division, just a competent quarterback. With Campbell, they have a chance to catch the Bengals in the AFC North. Unfortunately, the Browns may not be able to overcome the four games they lost with Weeden as their quarterback.

Chip Kelly is an offensive genius again. Nick Foles tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and Kelly’s Philadelphia offense looked outstanding. It’s hard to understand how an offense that looked so awful in losses to the Cowboys and Giants could look so good in Oakland, but when Kelly’s offense is rolling, it’s a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Gronk is great, when he’s healthy. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is such a unique offensive weapon — you just don’t find guys that big and strong who also have soft hands and run great routes. Gronkowski had nine catches for 143 yards against the Steelers on Sunday and was a big part of Brady’s big day — and a constant matchup nightmare for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Gronkowski’s arm and back injuries have caused him to miss 11 of the Patriots’ last 14 games. As long as the Patriots have a healthy Gronk, they can expect to have Brady at his best.

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Broncos release journeyman tight end Richard Gordon

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 3: Richard Gordon #89 of the Kansas City Chiefs makes a catch against Bryce Hager #54 of the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter during a pre-season game at the Edward Jones Dome on September 3, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos didn’t draft any tight ends last weekend, but they deemed one expendable Wednesday anyway.

The team announced they had waived tight end Richard Gordon, who made a cameo appearance for them last season when they were short at the position.

Gordon’s a blocker by trade, who will turn 29. He’s spent time with six different organizations, with stints with the Raiders, Steelers, Chiefs, Titans, Chiefs again, Broncos, Ravens and Broncos again. He has four career receptions, none since 2013.

He played five snaps in the one game he appeared in last year, before being cut when they needed safety help. He was re-signed this offseason, but they parted ways today.

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NFL V.P. of security Jeffrey Miller resigns

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The man who has been charge of NFL Security for nearly a decade is moving on.

Per multiple sources, NFL V.P. of security Jeffrey Miller has resigned. The NFL has confirmed that Miller is leaving.

“He informed the league last month that he was going to take a job on the West Coast with a private security firm,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “He worked the draft, will work at the league meeting and subsequent training session. He will leave the NFL next month.”

As one source put it, the move has nothing to do with performance, and it wasn’t initiated by the league. “This guy is awesome, really competent,” the source said.

Miller has taken a position that will allow him to move to the West Coast. He joined the league in 2008, after serving as Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner.

Plenty of scrutiny came Miller’s way in 2014, after the Ray Rice elevator video surfaced the day after the regular-season opener. The Associated Press reported in September 2014 that the video had been sent to Miller before it surfaced at TMZ.com. An independent investigation found no evidence that Miller or anyone else had received the video.

The NFL has not decided on a replacement, according to one source with knowledge of the situation.

For clarity, the Jeffrey Miller who is leaving the NFL runs security. The Jeff Miller who serves as executive V.P. of player health and safety remains on the job.

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Falcons, first-rounder Keanu Neal agree to terms

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Four 2016 draft picks are now under contract. Only one was a first-round pick.

Falcons safety Keanu Neal, the 17th overall selection in the draft, has agreed to terms on the standard four-year deal, with a fifth year option to be exercised by May 3, 2019. The contract will be signed Thursday.

Per a league source, Neal told the Falcons he wanted to focus on getting ready to play football and not on negotiating a contract. So the two sides got the deal done quickly, and Neal is now under contract for all offseason activities.

The move proves that all draft picks can — and should — be signed before they report for offseason workouts. Otherwise, they’re working out for free.

Neal played college football at Florida, entered the draft after three seasons of college football. At age 20, he’s one of the youngest players in the entire draft class.

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Vikings get Mackensie Alexander under contract

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Mackensie Alexander #2 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after breaking up a pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings were the first team to sign its entire draft class in 2015 and they are pushing to finish first in 2016 as well.

The latest pick to agree to terms is cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who, per multiple reports, will formally sign his contract with the Vikings on Thursday. Seventh-round defensive end Stephen Weatherly is also expected to sign Thursday and the team has already agreed to deals with their other seventh-rounder and both of their sixth-round picks.

With those five players done, the Vikings only have to wrap up deals with first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, fourth-round offensive lineman Willie Beavers and fifth-round linebacker Kentrell Brothers to have the entire class under contract.

Alexander got some buzz as a potential first-round pick after wrapping up his career at Clemson, where he played with Vikings seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse. He lasted until the 54th overall pick, however, and the Vikings are expected to start him out as a backup to slot corner Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn can be a free agent after the season, which should leave Alexander wit the job if he earns the staff’s trust as a rookie.

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Teammate says Blaine Gabbert is taking control of 49ers’ offense

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Blaine Gabbert #2 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after being tackled close to the goal line during the first half of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. The ball was ruled down on the 1-yard line and the 49ers scored on the next play.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick is throwing again in the 49ers’ offseason program, but that doesn’t mean he’s the guy running the show in the offense.

Instead, it’s Blaine Gabbert, who usurped Kaepernick as the 49ers’ starting quarterback last season, who has taken charge.

He’s definitely taking control,” tight end Garrett Celek said of Gabbert, via CSNBayArea.com. “Whoever’s at quarterback needs to take control and be our leader out there. And he’s definitely doing that. He’s making good decisions on the field. I think he’s definitely developing more and more as the days go on. But, right now, we’re all in the same boat learning this offense.”

Despite widespread talk of a Kaepernick trade, from all appearances he will remain in San Francisco and compete with Gabbert for the starting job. Last year Gabbert finished the season ahead of Kaepernick on the depth chart, and while Kaepernick eases back into work following multiple offseason surgeries, he may have a hard time moving back ahead of Gabbert and into the starting job.

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Manziel’s college coach sees lack of contact as “a little unnerving”

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Some have suggested that quarterback Johnny Manziel’s best chance of getting back into the NFL would happen only if his former coach at Texas A&M, Kevin Sumlin, were to jump to the next level. But Manziel could be burning that bridge, too.

Sumlin recently told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM in Phoenix that he has been unable to contact Manziel.

“I had texted him a couple of times and given him a call but haven’t got a return back,” Sumlin said. “So from that standpoint it’s a little unnerving. But there’s gonna come a time where he’s ready to communicate. . . . Our concern is for his well-being, and has nothing to do with football and has everything to do with life. It’s important that he knows that.”

Sumlin said he last saw Manziel at former Aggies teammate Mike Evans‘ wedding, in February.

Manziel has, by all appearances, changed nothing since being cut by the Browns and then fired by agent Drew Rosenhaus. Last Friday night, Manziel fired off a defiant rant on Twitter, making it clear that he has no intent to make the changes that many close to him believe are necessary.

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Rams draft pick Tyler Higbee scheduled to be arraigned Thursday

BOWLING GREEN, KY - DECEMBER 5:  Tyler Higbee #82 of the WKU Hilltoppers catches a pass while being defended in the first half by Devonta Foster #15 of the Souther Miss Golden Eagle at Houchens-Smith Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams will open their rookie minicamp on Friday, but one of their draft picks has a little business to conduct in a Kentucky courtroom on Thursday before getting on the field with his new team.

Tight end Tyler Higbee had his name called in the fourth round last Saturday despite an arrest earlier in April on second-degree assault, second-degree evading police and public intoxication charges. Higbee is set to be arraigned on those charges Thursday and his lawyer Brian Lowder told USA Today that his client will be pleading not guilty.

“He’s in good spirits and is excited about the opportunity to play with the Rams,” Lowder said.

Higbee, who went to Western Kentucky, struck Nawaf Alsaleh outside a Bowling Green club on April 10 and knocked him unconscious. Higbee admitted hitting the man, but, per the police report, said “the victim had been getting close to his girlfriend and getting close to him and stuck his head in Higbee’s face.”

Higbee’s lawyer has said they plan to argue self-defense and also denied that his client used racial taunts before striking the other man, although he told police he said “watch out, Haji” after hitting Alsaleh.

After the team picked Higbee, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said, via ESPN.com, that the team researched the incident and wouldn’t have picked Higbee if “we had some concerns that it was going to be a problem down the line.”

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Linebacker Michael Wilhoite re-ups with 49ers for another year

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Fullback Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite #57 of the San Francisco 49ers after a five-yard catch during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers might have plenty of uncertainty at quarterback, but they’ve quietly put together a very solid defensive front seven, and they got part of that group under contract.

The team announced that restricted free agent linebacker Michael Wilhoite had signed his one-year contract.

The 49ers found him playing for the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL in 2011, and he’s gradually worked his way up from the practice squad to have become a regular part of the rotation, breaking into the lineup because of injuries but performing well once he got the chance.

With first-rounders spent on linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner the last two years, they’re building a solid group up front on defense.

Of course, now that they’re playing for Chip Kelly, they’re going to have to be deep, as they’re going to play a lot more snaps than they have in the past.

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McCloughan: Vernon Davis is still an “explosive,” “genetic freak”

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One of the more overlooked moves of free agency came when one of the more overlooked veteran players reunited with the guy who was involved in drafting him a decade ago.

Former 49ers (and Broncos) tight end Vernon Davis signed with Washington, where former 49ers V.P. of player personnel Scot McCloughan now serves as General Manager. Appearing earlier this week on PFT Live, McCloughan explained the thought process behind adding Davis to the team’s offense.

“I brought him in to sit down and just talk with him,” McCloughan said. “Make sure he still had the passion and the energy to play. I wish you could see him on the practice field because Phase Two [of the offseason program] started [Monday]. He’s the same guy, he’s explosive as all get out, he’s smiling, he’s gonna be all right and he’s back home. He’s from here he’s very excited. He’s a genetic freak. He’s one of those guys that’s never been hurt, he’s 32 and he looks like when I drafted him, the same guy. I mean, he’s ripped. It’s amazing. He’s got his speed and quickness still. People downplay it, but he’s a good blocker, too.”

With ascending young tight end Jordan Reed on the roster (who seems to be open on almost every play) Davis will give the Washington offense a powerful extra piece if he plays like he did during his best days with the 49ers.

Still, McCloughan’s assessment of Davis makes his disappearing act in Denver even more confusing. He had one catch on December 20 against the Steelers and, thereafter, not a single reception through the final gun of Super Bowl 50.

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Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: “This will be my last job”

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 09:  NFL coach Bruce Arians (L) and NFL player Larry Firzgerald attend Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XXII at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa on April 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night) Getty Images

Part of the reason Bruce Arians seems to be enjoying himself so much is that he’s been liberated from worrying about the future.

Having been through so many moves and coaching changes in his career, the 63-year-old Arians has a rare sense of self-awareness about his current situation, which allows him to appreciate the moment he’s in.

“You never know how long this will last,” Arians told Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “There’s the old saying, there’s two kinds of coaches, ones that are fired and others who are going to get fired. You just enjoy every day. Right now, it’s the highlight of it.

“There will be lowlights, we know that. But I’m enjoying every single day. This will be my last job.”

Arians could probably retire to Vegas and do two shows a night whenever he feels the urge, but for now, he’s enjoying the work that got him to this point, which cranks back up with a rookie minicamp this weekend.

“I love this weekend because there’s going to be two or three surprises of undrafted rookies or guys we invited for a tryout,” Arians said. “Last year, we signed three guys who were tryout guys. [Quarterback] Phillip Sims made it all the way to almost our football team. That part’s really fun. Then slide them in with the vets next week.

“It seems like we just stepped off the practice field. But, man, there is a different sense of purpose in watching our players come to work every day. We’ve always had great participation. We’ve always had fun doing it, but there’s a sense of purpose, in the weight room, the meeting room. Even Buddy Morris, our strength coach, said, “something’s different.” You can feel it.”

Arians’ own “cool uncle” style is doubtless part of the reason they’ve been able to create that feeling, but the wins on the field have helped turn around a franchise that’s now among the most stable in the league.

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Vikings sign two more draft picks

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 10: Jayron Kearse #1 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after making a tackle during the game against the Georgia tech Yellow Jackets at Memorial Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Wide receiver Moritz Boehringer became the first member of the 2016 draft class to sign a contract when he agreed to his four-year rookie deal with the Vikings this week, but the first player drafted directly from Europe will not be alone for long.

The Vikings have also agreed to deals with two of his teammates less than a week after they were drafted. According to multiple reports, sixth-round tight end David Morgan has agreed to his deal and Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reports that seventh-round safety Jayron Kearse’s contract is also done.

Morgan had 85 catches for 1,104 yards and eight touchdowns during his career at Texas-San Antonio, but his likeliest path to playing time in the short term will come as a blocker. Kearse, who is the nephew of former Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, was a starter for two years at Clemson and, like most seventh-round picks, will have to do well on special teams to stick on the roster.

The Vikings have five other draft picks to sign and the current CBA is structured so that they shouldn’t have much difficulty getting any of the deals done.

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Reggie McKenzie: DeAndre Washington more than just a third-down back

Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington (21) steps out of a tackle by Texas defensive back Duke Thomas (21) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas) AP

Running back Latavius Murray ran for 1,066 yards last season and went to the Pro Bowl, so it’s fair to say that his first full year as the lead back in Oakland was a successful one.

One thing that the Raiders would like to improve is keeping Murray’s production at a high level across the entire season. After rushing for 4.8 yards per carry in the first half, Murray dropped to 3.3 yards per carry in the second half of the year. They boosted the offensive line by signing guard Kelechi Osemele, which should help the entire offense, and General Manager Reggie McKenzie believes the team got a back in the fifth round who can help keep Murray fresh.

DeAndre Washington is built similarly to Darren Sproles and was used frequently as a receiver at Texas Tech, which seemed to put him on track for a role on third downs in the NFL. McKenzie thinks Washington can do more, however.

“We think he’s a complete back, and when he gets out in space, he can make you look silly.” McKenzie said on 95.7 The Game, via the team’s website. “He can catch the ball, but he can run between the tackles as well as well as bouncing it outside. We think he’s the total package as a runner. We really like him.”

Taiwan Jones, Roy Helu and George Atkinson are the other backs on the roster and none of them proved to be a complement for Murray last season, so the team may need to look outside should Washington fall short of McKenzie’s expectations in the coming months.

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Bills say they’re “very comfortable” with Manuel as their backup

EJ Manuel

It’s been a rough year for Bills quarterback EJ Manuel: He came in third in the training camp battle with Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel last year, the Bills went 0-2 in the games Manuel started, the team declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract, and he got more competition when Cardale Jones was drafted.

But the team still says it’s confident in Manuel if he has to play this season.

Bills General Manager Doug Whaley says he’s “very comfortable” with Manuel, adding that Manuel is one of the league’s top backup quarterbacks, according to the Buffalo News.

By waiting until the end of the fourth round to draft a quarterback and taking a project like Jones rather than a quarterback viewed as ready to play right away, Whaley has shown that the Bills appear comfortable going with Manuel as No. 2 behind Taylor on the depth chart. Last year, the games when they had to turn to Manuel didn’t work out too well. Perhaps this year will be different, but the Bills have to be hoping right now that Taylor will start 16 games.

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Former Tunsil business manager/financial adviser becomes main suspect in hacking case

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The true villain in the Laremy Tunsil draft-night free fall continues to be the person who accessed his social media accounts and posted damaging information with the obvious intent to spark a slide. Tunsil’s camp eventually could figure out who did it.

Via ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Tunsil’s attorney and agent are investigating a former business manager/financial adviser to determine the role, if any, that he had in the smear campaign.

Per the report, Tunsil hired the business manager/financial adviser in October 2015. Among other things, the person scheduled agent meetings with Tunsil and potential agents.

Tunsil later fired the person after learning that he wasn’t registered with the NFL Players Association as a financial adviser. The man, who was not named by ESPN, reportedly gave Tunsil a new phone in October. Persons close to Tunsil think the former business manager/financial adviser may have accessed Tunsil’s account by using Tunsil’s old phone.

Criminal charges and/or a civil lawsuit haven’t been ruled out. An FBI spokesman in Mississippi told ESPN that his office has not yet been contacted to investigate.

Under the Stored Communications Act, the person who accessed Tunsil’s social media accounts could face up to 10 years in prison, along with more than $7 million in liability arising from the slide that occurred after the Ravens reportedly decided not to select Tunsil due to the video.

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Justin Tuck to sign one-day deal so he can retire a Giant

Justin Tuck AP

The Giants are going to sign another impact pass-rusher, but this one isn’t going to get a giant signing bonus.

According to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com, longtime NFL defensive end Justin Tuck will sign a one-day contract with the Giants and retire as a member of his original team.

Tuck spent the last two seasons in Oakland after a cash-grab there, but announced his retirement in February.

The ceremonial deal will bring his career full-circle. He had 60.5 sacks in nine seasons with the Giants. His two years in Oakland were less productive, and a torn pectoral muscle contributed to his decision to step away.

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