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Statement from Jermichael Finley’s agent

[Editor's note:  Blake Baratz, agent for Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, has released a statement regarding the question of whether Finley will undergo neck surgery.  The full text of the statement appears below.]

We have spent countless hours over the past few weeks meeting with the top spine specialists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons throughout the country to gather information and opinions regarding Jermichael Finley’s spinal-cord injury. Since Mr. Chmura decided to speak out publicly and inaccurately regarding this situation, we felt that it would be best to clarify the facts on Jermichael’s behalf. First and foremost, Jermichael’s long-term health is our primary concern.  While his return to professional football is a hot topic of conversation, his ability to live a long and fulfilling life with his loved ones is by far and away our main objective.

Regarding Jermichael’s specific injury, it is important to note that expert opinions differ across the board, from surgical procedures to rehabilitation methods to returning to contact sports. Working alongside the Packers organization, we have discussed and analyzed all of these opinions, as well as all of the potential scenarios moving forward. We have collectively determined that while surgery may not be 100% necessary, it is a proactive measure that should alleviate future risks with regards to a similar episode or re-injury. Jermichael has elected to undergo a spinal fusion with Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers team Neurosurgeon. Dr. Maroon is experienced in conducting this type of procedure on professional athletes in contact sports, and is confident that Jermichael will fully recover following the procedure. Once surgery has been completed, Jermichael has every intention of resuming his football career, and we fully support his efforts to do so.

Jermichael and his family appreciate all of the love and support they have received, and simply ask that we all respect their privacy during his recovery process.  Jermichael promises to keep everyone updated over the coming days, weeks, and months.

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Chad Johnson scores first CFL TD, hugs official who doesn’t return the embrace

Winnipeg Blue Bombers v Montreal Alouettes Getty Images

Former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson scored his first Canadian Football League regular season touchdown on Friday night, and it was no bunny.

Johnson, who’s now playing for the Montreal Alouettes, got behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ secondary and hauled in a 46-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Troy Smith, giving his club a 7-3 first-quarter lead.

After the touchdown, Johnson embraced side judge Jocelyn Paul, who remained stoic and didn’t return the hug. Johnson then dropped to his left knee and was greeted by his happy teammates.

The touchdown was the 36-year-old Johnson’s first in a regular season pro football game since December 18, 2011, when he caught a 33-yard scoring pass from Tom Brady as a member of the New England Patriots.

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Johnny Football gets Prime Time’s seal of approval

Deion Sanders AP

Prime Time is a big fan of Johnny Football.

Former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders spoke out in favor of Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, saying that the NFL should welcome him as a breath of fresh air.

“The quarterback mold was created by Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady,” Sanders on 105.3 The Fan. “When we don’t see [partying] from those guys, we kind of think it’s wrong because we don’t see it. That does not mean that Johnny Manziel has done one thing wrong. We just haven’t seen something of his kind. I like it. I love change.”

Sanders said people have overreacted to Manziel going out and having a good time. As Sanders sees it, Manziel isn’t hurting anyone.

“The kid hasn’t done anything. They’re putting him out there like he’s Justin Bieber — like he’s egging folks on and doing wild and rich folks stuff. He’s not doing stuff like that. He’s a good kid,” Sanders said.

Like Manziel, Sanders was brash and flashy and drew plenty of attention to himself even before he ever stepped on the field in the NFL. Sanders ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Andre Reed thinks Richard Sherman wouldn’t have been able to cover Andre Reed

Reed Getty Images

News flash:  Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman loves him some him.  Which makes plenty of people feel the opposite of love for him.

Former Bills receiver Andre Reed, who’ll finally enter the Hall of Fame later this year, was asked by a participant at the 27th Annual Jim Kelly Football Camp whether Sherman could have covered Reed in Reed’s prime.

Hell no,” Reed told the kids, to their delight, via Syracuse.com.  (Calm down, Church Lady; they’ve heard — and said — a lot worse than “hell”.)

“Look, Richard Sherman is a really good player,” Reed added.  “But he isn’t a Deion [Sanders] or a [Rod] Woodson yet, even if he thinks he is.”

The most common criticism of Sherman comes from the system the Seahawks use.  Sherman stays on the left side of the formation, and he’s never asked to spend the game shadowing the opposition’s best receiver.  Sherman also benefits from the presence of a potent pass rush and two of the best safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, of the last generation.

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Mariota, Winston both say they’re undecided on the 2015 NFL draft

Mariota AP

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston both would have been first-round draft picks if they had entered the NFL this year, and they’ll be vying to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

At least, they will be if they enter the draft. But both Mariota and Winston say they might just stay in school for two more years, and wait until 2016 until they enter the draft.

“We’ll see, I’m not too sure,” Mariota told NFL.com. “The opportunity to leave obviously is there, but at the same time, college is fun and I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.”

Winston said he may want to stay at Florida State long enough to get his degree.

“It’s very important to me. I was always raised as a student first and an athlete second,” Winston said. “I think that’s the main purpose in college. Some athletes lose that perspective. It’s about being a student-athlete, and not just getting that easy money and going to the league. Even if kids leave early, I would want them to come back and get that degree.”

Because both players redshirted as freshmen, Mariota has two more seasons of NCAA eligibility and Winston has three. But realistically, it’s hard to believe either will still be in college a year from now. There’s just too much money to be made in the NFL, and too much of a risk of getting hurt as an amateur, for potential high first-round picks to stay in school. Expect them both to be in the 2015 NFL draft.

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Revenue sharing splits up $6 billion in 2013

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Since only the Packers must reveal their books, due to their non-stock stock ownership structure, the Packers’ annual report includes plenty of info both about the franchise and the league.

Darren Rovell of ESPN.com did some backwards math to determine that the $187.7 million received by the Packers in national revenue means that the league divided a whopping $6 billion among the 32 teams from April 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014.

That cash comes largely from the national TV contracts with NBC, ESPN, FOX, CBS, and DirecTV.  The wireless deal with Verizon also pumps up the number, as does the 34-percent chunk of ticket sales that go to the visiting team in name, but that as a practical matter are pooled for revenue sharing.

The massive shared amount, which exceeds last year’s salary cap of $123 million by more than 50 percent, highlights the ongoing importance of the broadcast antitrust exemption.  The federal law, passed decades ago, gives the NFL the ability to negotiate TV deals as a 32-business block, forcing networks that covet broadcasts of significant national interest to also take less attractive games involving less compelling teams.

If that exemption ever goes away, all teams would have to cut their own deals, and a handful of teams would make a killing.  Which could make it tempting for some owners to not be all that upset if the exemption ever evaporates.

Still, revenue sharing levels the playing field, ensuring that the NFL won’t be split into a collections of haves and have nots.

Maybe that should be have mores, and have mosts.

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Nealy admits taking a “banned stimulant”

Cookie Getty Images

Another suspension under the PED program, another player who hasn’t admitted to taking a stigmatizing compound like steroids.

Like Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan eight days ago on that pre-July 4 bad-news dump by the NFL, Vikings linebacker Spencer Nealy admits that he violated the policy — by taking a banned stimulant.

“”Recently I learned from the NFL that I tested positive for a stimulant that is banned under the NFL policy,” Nealy said in a statement issued by the NFLPA.  “I worked with my agent and the union to investigate the test results, and I learned that a supplement I took contained a banned stimulant.  I understand that the NFL policy is very strict, and I take responsibility.  I’’m very sorry for the impact of this situation on my teammates, the Vikings organization and Vikings fans.  I will work extremely hard during training camp, and during the suspension, I will stay in top shape and will be ready to contribute upon my return.””

If that text sounds familiar, it should.  It reads a lot like the statement issued by the Dolphins on Jordan’s behalf.

“I recently learned from the NFL that I tested positive for stimulants that are banned under the NFL policy,” Jordan’s statement said.  “I worked carefully with my advisors and the union to investigate the test results, and I take full responsibility for the test results.  I’m very sorry for the impact of this situation on my teammates, coaches, Stephen Ross, the entire Dolphins organization, fans and my family as well.  I will continue to work extremely hard during training camp and preseason.  During the suspension, I will stay in top shape and will be ready to contribute upon my return.”

The biggest substantive difference between the statements comes from Nealy’s concession that he took a supplement that contained a banned stimulant.  He doesn’t, unlike others before him, claim that the supplement was spiked with the banned stimulant without his knowledge.

For both players, the term “stimulant” has replaced the recent explanations pointing to Adderall, which contains a banned stimulant.  And while it’s entirely possible that both players indeed took a banned stimulant and not something more sinister like steroids, there’s no way to know because the NFL currently doesn’t have the ability to correct the record by disputing either player.

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Spencer Nealy suspended four games for violating PED policy

Minnesota Vikings Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy will serve a four-game suspension to begin the 2014 regular season after violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the league said Friday.

Nealy, 24, spent part of the 2013 season on the Vikings’ practice squad. The club signed him to a reserve/future deal in December.

Nealy can take part in the Vikings’ training camp and preseason activities before serving his suspension. He can first return to an NFL roster on Monday, September 29.

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Nealy played collegiately at Texas A&M. He had a stint with Detroit last year before joining Minnesota in August.

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John Harbaugh: Our defense will be top-five in the league at worst

Matt Elam AP

The Ravens won the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, but that didn’t guarantee an extended stay for any players on the defensive side of the ball.

Baltimore returns just two starters — linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata — from that team and they’ve been working to replenish the talent supply. Their first four picks in the 2013 draft were defensive players, but they gave up the most fourth quarter points in team history. They added four more in the first four rounds of this year’s draft, leaving coach John Harbaugh to set a high bar for the unit to reach on the field this season.

“The expectation for our defense is to be top-five, at the worst,” Harbaugh said, via ESPN.com. “It has always been that way and always will be.”

This year’s Ravens defense is much shorter on experience than the one that won the Super Bowl, but the hope is that the infusion of youth over the last two years has upped the speed and athleticism enough to bring the team back to previous heights. It’s a big bet and one that will further solidify the reputations of Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and General Manager Ozzie Newsome if it pays off.

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Colts part ways with repeat offender LaVon Brazill

Brazill AP

The Colts know when to take advantage of news cover.

So they dumped the bad stuff, and LaVon Brazill on Friday afternoon when everyone was otherwise occupied.

The team announced they signed wide receiver Aaron Burks and waived Brazill, who was suspended for a year for his latest violation of the substance abuse policy.

It’s certainly not a show of compassion and forgiveness, the kind of thoughts that were common for pill-addict owner Jim Irsay.

Speaking of Irsay, we haven’t heard anything from the league on him.

It’s early yet.

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The Redskins claim 23rd spot in PFT’s preseason power rankings

DeAngelo Hall AP

There are no ulterior motives for the Redskins this season, but will there be victories?

Our votes for PFT’s preseason power rankings say the team has some work to do to convince us that firing Mike Shanahan was enough to completely turn things around after a 3-13 2013 season. The Redskins come in at No. 23 in the rankings, one spot ahead of the Cowboys and behind the Giants and Eagles.

Our preview runs down everything you need know about the Redskins heading into camp, but defensive questions loom the largest when it comes to reasons for doubt about the Redskins’ turnaround. Those doubts are balanced by quarterback Robert Griffin III’s return to health and upgraded talent at wide receiver, but what the final result will look like remains up in the air ahead of training camp.

Let us know what you think of the Redskins’ rating in the poll below and in the comments.

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Jaguars’ Brown, Shorts taking part in Larry Fitzgerald’s camp

Cecil Shorts AP

At 26, Cecil Shorts III is the oldest wide receiver on the Jaguars’ roster.

The club’s second oldest receiver, Mike Brown, is 25.

We mention this because Brown and Shorts, per the Jaguars’ website, are among those taking part in Larry Fitzgerald’s annual workouts in Minnesota. And both Shorts and Brown appear to be making the most of the experience.

“You get a chance to see what other guys are doing on the field, how they run their routes, how they set their routes up – things like that,” Brown told Jaguars.com of the workouts, which have attracted about 30 players, he said. “You’re always looking for something to pick up from every single person.”

Shorts, meanwhile, told the club’s site he has enjoyed watching how Fitzgerald goes about his business.

“That’s the biggest thing for me, seeing how he deals with people, how he attacks his game, how he works on his craft,” Shorts told Jaguars.com. “He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s up here, willing to work with guys who are trying to get on teams, guys in college, guys fighting to get on teams. It says a lot about him. He’s a humble guy.”

That Shorts and Brown are willing to work and eager to improve in the early days of July has to appreciated by the Jaguars, who have a pair of rookie wideouts (Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee) who figure to play this season. If a club’s veteran players set the right example with their actions, that’s a healthy outcome for the organization.

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Cam Newton will catch up with his new WRs next week

Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin AP

Other than a few 7-on-7s on the final day of minicamp, none of the Panthers’ new wide receivers has been able to work with Cam Newton this offseason as he recovered from ankle surgery.

They’re going to get a chance to catch up next week.

Panthers wideout Tiquan Underwood told Tom Pelissero of USA Today that Newton and the rest of the quarterbacks would get together for some work before training camp.

It’s been more difficult because Cam’s coming off an ankle injury and he had to get surgery, so we couldn’t throw with him as much as we would like,” Underwood said. “I know we’re all going to get together next week in Charlotte. We’re just going to try to speed up the process. We’re all going to throw — Derek Anderson, Cam Newton, Joe Webb, Matt Blanchard and all the receivers — just to work on timing and get that down pat before camp.”

Newton needs to learn them, since they’re all new. The Panthers lost Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon this offseason, replacing them with first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin and veterans Underwood, Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery.

That’s going to take more than a week of throwing it around to make up for, but the extra time is at least a chance for Newton to catch up.

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Graham’s camp believe appeal deadline comes Monday at 4:00 p.m. ET

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

If the Saints and Jimmy Graham don’t work out a long-term deal soon, Graham will have to file an appeal of the arbitration ruling on his franchise-tag status or waive the issue.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Graham’s camp believes his deadline for filing the appeal is Monday, July 14, at 4:00 p.m. ET.

The thinking is that Graham actually received the ruling on Thursday, July 3, even though the ruling was released on Wednesday, July 2.  The 10-day clock expires on Sunday, July 13.  Because the window closes on a Sunday, Graham has until the next day the league office is open to file the notice of appeal, pushing his deadline to 4:00 p.m. ET on Monday.

Still, why chance it?  With the Saints understanding that business is business, why not start the appeal process now and avoid a potential Dumervil-style fax machine faux pas?  Moreover, if a long-term deal isn’t worked out by July 15, the appeal process will be farther along than it would be if Graham waits until the last minute.

With the Saints and Graham required to get any long-term deal signed and filed by 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, it’s fair to say that one or the other will happen by Monday at 4:00 p.m. ET — Graham will sign a long-term deal, or he’ll file his appeal.

There’s a chance that both will happen, with Graham filing the appeal as a last-ditch effort to get that last concession from the team, and the Saints giving it to him once the appeal is filed.

It makes the most sense to just get the deal done now.  But the Saints are taking it slowly, likely because the Saints suspect that, when push comes to shove, Graham will pounce on the offer that’s currently on the table, or something very close to it.

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LeBron’s return could be good for Browns

lebrown

The week began with an image of Johnny Manziel with a rolled up dollar bill.  It ended with LeBron James rolling back into town.

The immediate impact on the Browns after the return of King James to Cleveland is that local fans suddenly won’t care quite as much about the NFL franchise that plays in the so-called Factory of Sadness.  Over the long haul, it could be good for the Browns to have LeBron back.

For starters, James’ presence will dilute some of the Manziel mania, at least in Northeast Ohio. Which in turn will put less pressure on the team to play him right away, and less emphasis on everything Manziel does or doesn’t do.

Also, at a time when Manziel has made it clear that he’ll do what he wants, Manziel may be inclined to listen to LeBron’s advice, especially since Manziel’s off-field interests are handled by the marketing company owned by LeBron and Maverick Carter.  Of course, the potentially impetuous Manziel could react to LeBron crowding Johnny Football’s Cleveland spotlight by parting ways with LeBron’s marketing company. Manziel’s tweet welcoming LeBrown back to town suggests that won’t happen.

So LeBron could help Cleveland win an NBA title and improve the prospects of the Browns by getting Manziel to tone it down and/or at a minimum to stop being photographed in compromising situations and/or ideally to focus only on being the best football player he can be.

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Report: Antonio Brown leaving Roc Nation

Antonio Brown AP

One of the sport’s bright young stars is leaving the flashy upstart which looked so enticing, and is returning home.

No, not that guy.

According to Mike Garafolo and Ross Jones of FOX Sports, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is leaving Jay Z’s Roc Nation and is going back to his old agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Agent moves aren’t going to create nationwide paranoia like that other guy, but it is interesting to note the tide shifting away a bit from a group that seemed to have momentum not that long ago.

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