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Harbaugh apparently didn’t know the rule for roughing the quarterback

Harbaugh AP

When players don’t know the rules, there’s a chance they don’t know the rules because they’re not properly being taught the rules.  When the coach doesn’t know the rules, the likelihood of the players not properly being taught the rules increases.

As it relates to Sunday’s controversial late-game call in New Orleans, which wiped out a turnover because 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks committed a roughing the passer penalty on Saints quarterback Drew Brees, there’s a pretty good chance coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t know the rule.

“Talking to Ahmad, Ahmad didn’t think he hit him in the head,” Harbaugh said after the game.

Ahmad’s recollection was accurate.  He didn’t hit Brees in the head.  But that’s not the rule.

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 sets forth the standards for roughing the passer.  “Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly use the helmet and/or facemask to hit the passer, or use hands, arms or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area.”  (Emphasis supplied.)

Head or neck area.

It doesn’t matter if Brooks didn’t hit Brees in the head.  Referee Tony Corrente determined that Brooks hit Brees in the neck.

A better argument from the 49ers’ perspective would be that the contact began lower than the neck.  As it relates to hits with the helmet or facemask, the rulebook specifically states that contact beginning lower on the body but moving up to the head or neck triggers a violation.  By omitting “hands, arms or other parts of the body” from that specific twist on the rule, the 49ers could argue that hands and arms don’t fall within the scope of the “sliding up” exception.

To make that argument, however, Harbaugh would have to acknowledge that the neck is forbidden.  He hasn’t.

On Monday, Harbaugh reinforced the notion that he doesn’t find fault with Brooks for the penalty.

“Our interpretation was, when we grade a player, if he’s got a penalty we give him a minus, but we did not assign a minus on that play,”  Harbaugh told reporters.  “That’s our interpretation. . . . I thought he made a great play. And, it didn’t get the result.”

It’s a smart way of criticizing a call without criticizing it.  Instead of saying the officials got it wrong, Harbaugh simply said he thinks his guy got it right.

And if the rule is “head” and not “head or neck,” Harbaugh would be right.

But that’s not the rule.  If Harbaugh doesn’t know that, how can his players?

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Steven Jackson has no plans to retire

Bradley McDougald, Steven Jackson AP

Yes, he’s played 11 years in the NFL. Sure, he’s 31. Yep, he was cut by the Falcons on Thursday. But none of that means running back Steven Jackson is calling it quits.

“A lot has been written lately about my future,” Jackson wrote on his official website. “There are questions about my age, and what I have left in the tank. Of that, I will simply say this. For the first nine years of my career, I was used like a battering ram, punishing opposing defense over four quarters of a game. Maybe you stopped me the first five times I got the ball, but by the 15th or 20th time I got it, late in a game — let’s just say you were really feeling me at that point.

“Make no mistake: I can still punish a defense. I still have a warrior’s heart. There are 1,000-yard seasons left in these legs. I know what I am still capable of, and I have every intention of proving it.”

Jackson enters the market at a time when tailbacks like Reggie Bush, Chris Johnson, and DeAngelo Williams, and Jackson is older and has more wear and tear than each of them. At a time when teams are opting for multiple tailbacks who are on the young and cheap side, Jackson could have a hard time getting an acceptable offer. He could have an even harder time getting the reps necessary to churn out more 1,000-yard seasons.

But we wish him the best as he embarks on finding a new home. He’s been a great leader by example on a lot of bad teams. He deserves to get a chance to play for a good team.

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Nelson Peterson mentions three teams as potential destinations for Adrian

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Officially, the Vikings can now speak to running back Adrian Peterson. Unofficially, it sounds like multiple teams have been talking to someone.

On Thursday, Adrian’s father, Nelson Peterson, told Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the elder Peterson has heard “rumors” of three potential destinations for Adrian.

“I’ve heard rumors, Arizona,” Nelson Peterson told Tomasson. “I’ve also heard the rumors of Indianapolis and the Colts, going there with a quarterback the caliber of [Andrew] Luck. I’ve also heard the Cowboys, coming back home with the Cowboys, behind that offensive line that they have.”

Nelson Peterson didn’t say who he heard the rumors from. All three teams make sense, and they mesh with rumors that have been making the rounds in league circles for the past few months.

Regardless of whether Adrian ends up in Arizona now, Nelson has strong feelings about where the Cardinals currently would be if they’d taken Adrian eight years ago.

“Arizona had the opportunity to draft him and they didn’t,” Nelson Peterson said. “They had an opportunity to take him in 2007 with the No. 4 pick and they went and picked Levi Brown. If they would have taken Adrian Peterson, then [quarterback] Kurt Warner would probably still be playing and they probably would have numerous Super Bowls.

“Can you imagine [Adrian] with Kurt Warner and with Larry Fitzgerald in his prime? Oh, man, Arizona would probably have a couple of Super Bowls by now.”

With Adrian turning 30 next month, the window toward being a key piece of a Super Bowl contender is closing. Before he leaves Minnesota in search of a team that may be on the doorstep, he needs to ask himself whether the Vikings may be laying the foundation to get there, sooner than later.

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Report: Raiders releasing safety Tyvon Branch

Oakland Raiders v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Raiders are reportedly parting ways with one of their starters in the secondary.

Oakland will release strong safety Tyvon Branch, Jason La Canfora of reported Thursday night.

When healthy, Branch has been a productive starter, notching more than 100 tackles in every season in which he’s played all 16 games (2009, 2010, 2011). However, injuries have limited the 28-year-old Branch to a combined five games in the last two seasons. He missed 13 games with a broken foot in 2014, and the previous season, he sat out 14 games with a broken leg.

Branch was slated to make $5.5 million in salary in 2015, per NFL Players Association data.

With Branch departing, the Raiders could turn to Brandian Ross at strong safety. Ross notched 55 tackles and intercepted two passes in 2014. He is slated to be a restricted free agent.

The Raiders re-signed starting free safety Charles Woodson last month.

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Report: Buster Skrine could get up to $7 million per season

Buster Skrine AP

If the Browns are to bring back free agent cornerback Buster Skrine, it could cost them quite a bit.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Skrine is anticipated to garner between $5.5 million and $7 million per season in his next contract. Skrine is expected to be in demand in free agency, the newspaper reported, citing several unnamed sources.

The 25-year-old Skrine intercepted a career-high four passes in 2014 for Cleveland. He has defended 18 passes in each of the last two seasons.

Skrine (5-9, 185) is No. 46 on PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100.

If the Browns were to re-sign Skrine, it would likely keep second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert in a reserve role. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Gilbert had a disappointing rookie season.

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Colts hang onto Matt Hasselbeck for another year

Matt Hasselbeck AP

Having Andrew Luck as their starting quarterback minimizes the need for a Plan B for the Colts.

But they’re hanging onto theirs, just in case.

The Colts announced they had signed pending free agent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to a one-year deal, keeping their trusted backup in house.

Hasselbeck, 39, hasn’t started a game since he was in Tennessee in 2012. And frankly, the Colts hope he doesn’t change that anytime soon.

But the former Seahawks starter has added some gravity to the locker room, and been a good sounding board for Luck during his development, so keeping him made sense for both sides.

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Falcons release Steven Jackson

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The man who currently sits at 16 on the all-time rushing list will have to continue his climb through the record book with a new team.

The Falcons have announced that running back Steven Jackson has been released.

After nine seasons with the Rams, Jackson joined the Falcons two years ago. Jackson gained 1,250 yards on 347 carries, scoring 12 touchdowns.

For his career, Jackson has 11,388 yards, more than Hall of Famers John Riggins and O.J. Simpson.

The Falcons won only 10 of 32 games with Jackson on the team, a slump that came after five straight winning seasons.

For Jackson, the sub-.500 seasons continue a career trend. He has never played on a team that finished the year with a winning record. As a rookie in 2004, the Rams qualified for a wild-card berth with an 8-8 record.

The move creates $3.75 million in cap space. Jackson will still count for $1.1 million based on previously-paid bonus money. He immediately becomes a free agent, able to sign with any other team.

For Jackson’s sake, here’s hoping he lands with a team that finally finishes the year with a winning record.

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Vikings can now talk to Adrian Peterson

Adrian Getty Images

The statement they issued didn’t expressly address the question of whether the Vikings can now speak directly to running back Adrian Peterson, who has been restored from suspended status to the Commissioner-Exempt list. Per a team source, they can.

That’s a huge development for the Vikings, who hadn’t been able to make their case directly to Peterson as to why he should return for a ninth season with the team. In a visit last week to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, coach Mike Zimmer made the case that he’d make directly to Peterson.

Now, Zimmer can make that case directly to Peterson, and the Vikings can try to secure from him a renewed commitment to remain in Minnesota.

Ultimately, the decision could come down to money. For now, the Vikings have the ability to mend fences and rebuild bridges before allowing him to once again break the bank with a base salary of $12.75 million.

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Jean Francois lands in D.C.

Super Bowl XLVII Media Day Getty Images

The Ricky Jean Francois free-agency tour has ended. Jean Francois, per a source with knowledge of the situation, has signed a three-year deal in Washington.

Cut by the Colts earlier this month, Jean Francois attracted interest from several teams (Washington, 49ers, Seahawks) in a process shepherded by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

Per the source, the agreement has a base value of $9 million, with $4 million guaranteed. It’s unclear how much of that is fully guaranteed at signing. With incentives, the deal could be worth up to $11.25 million.

Jean Francois spent the last two seasons in Indianapolis after starting his career with the 49ers as a draft pick of former 49ers G.M. (and new Washington G.M.) Scot McCloughan.

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Washington hires Dave Ragone as quality control coach

Dave Ragone, Ryan Fitzpatrick AP

A former Titans position coach has been added to Jay Gruden’s coaching staff.

Washington has hired Dave Ragone as an offensive quality control coach, the club announced Thursday.

The 35-year-old Ragone was the Titans’ quarterbacks coach in 2013 and their wide receivers coach in 2011 and 2012. He also coached quarterbacks for the UFL’s Hartford Colonials in 2010.

Ragone played three seasons at quarterback with the Texans (2003-2005), starting two games as a rookie. He also had stints with the Bengals and Rams in 2006.

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Vikings continue to focus on welcoming Adrian Peterson back

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Vikings have been silent in the hours since Judge David Doty vacated the suspension of running back Adrian Peterson. Earlier in the hour, they issued a statement which makes it clear that, for now, they’ll continue to be silent when it comes to talking directly to Peterson.

“Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization,” the Vikings said in a statement. “Today’s ruling leaves Adrian’s status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time.”

Peterson already was due to have his suspension revisited on April 15, with the possibility of a reinstatement at that time. It’s unclear whether the NFL’s appeal and/or further proceedings before arbitrator Harold Henderson will alter that timeline.

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Recalling the Raymond Berry era and New England’s failed run at Bill Walsh

Raymond Berry on the sideline Getty Images

Bill Belichick. Pete Carroll. Bill Parcells. As coaching goes, the Patriots couldn’t have done much better over the last 22 seasons.

Parcells is a Hall of Famer, and Belichick will surely have his day in Canton, too. Carroll, meanwhile, went on to lead title-winning teams at USC and with the Seattle Seahawks after leaving New England, so the Patriots were on the right track.

But let’s go back a little further, to December 1989, when the Patriots tried to hire another Hall of Fame coach.

According to the late, great Will McDonough of the Boston Globe, then-Patriots owner Victor Kiam offered New England’s head coaching/G.M. roles to former 49ers coach Bill Walsh. However, Walsh turned down the offer, citing his commitment to continue working for NBC, the Globe reported.

Still, a coaching change was coming for New England, which fell to 5-11 in ’89.

Twenty-five years ago Thursday, the Patriots parted ways with head coach Raymond Berry, reportedly because of a conflict over the hiring of New England’s offensive and defensive coordinators.

A Hall of Fame wide receiver, Berry was a successful NFL head coach, too. He led the Patriots to a 51-41 mark, with New England making the Super Bowl for the first time in its history in his first full season on the job. Overall, the Patriots posted winning records in his first four full campaigns (1985-1988).

The Patriots would tab Steelers defensive coordinator Rod Rust to replace Berry, but he was fired after New England was a league-worst 1-15 in 1990. The Pats then turned to Syracuse head coach Dick McPherson, who led New England to a 6-10 mark in ’91. However, New England was 2-14 in ’92, with McPherson missing seven games because of illness. He was replaced in January 1993.

From there, the Patriots hired Parcells, who led New England to the playoffs in his second season and the Super Bowl in his fourth. Then came the three-season stint for Carroll (1997-1999), who was then replaced by Belichick.

But before that trio of coaches came the 9-39 stretch the franchise endured in the three seasons after Berry’s departure. Would things have been different if the Patriots lured Walsh east, or if Berry stayed on? If Walsh succeeded in New England, would Parcells ever have had reason to join the franchise? How would franchise history have been altered?

We’ll never know. But we do know this: Raymond Berry, like Belichick and Carroll, won more than he lost in his time in Foxborough, and he has his own spot in Patriots history.

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NFL appeals ruling in Adrian Peterson case

Peterson Getty Images

Like the Ray Rice grievance process, the NFL lost the legal challenge in the Adrian Peterson suspension.  Unlike the Rice case, the league has the power to appeal the Peterson ruling.

“[W]e believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions,” the NFL said in statement released to PFT.  “As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court.”

It’s unclear how Peterson’s placement on the Commissioner-Exempt list affects his ability to speak to the Vikings about topics such as returning to the team when his suspension ends.  Peterson previously was scheduled to have his suspension revisited by the league on April 15.

It’s also unclear whether the appeal will be expedited.  The new league year, which opens the windows for trades, launches on March 10.

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Lancaster police say they don’t have Wal-Mart video

Camera Getty Images

When Ian Rapoport of NFL Media secured and published the police report from a July 11, 2011 incident at a Lancaster, Texas Wal-Mart, the chase for the surveillance video corresponding to that incident intensified.

First up, the Dallas Morning News attempted to get the video from the Lancaster, Texas police.

“Rona Stringfellow, assistant city manager for Lancaster, said in an email that the police department has no video of the incident,” writes David Moore of the Morning News.

It’s not surprising that the Lancaster police doesn’t have the video.  The responding officer, M.L. Johnson, makes no mention of reviewing the video or of preserving it in his report.  Absent a follow-up report, there’s no reason to think the Lancaster, Texas police ever had a copy of the video in their files.

The more likely custodians of the video are Wal-Mart, which undoubtedly had a video of what happened in the parking lot at some point in time, and the Dallas County District Attorney.  On Friday, February 20, I made a written request to the Dallas County District Attorney for the incident report and video under the Texas Public Information Act; I’ve yet to get a response.

Wal-Mart may have the video either at its Lancaster, Texas store or at the corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas.  It has no legal obligation to release the video, but there’s likely no legal prohibition on doing so, either.

In addition to the inevitable requests that will be made to the potential custodians of the video, don’t be surprised to learn that members of the media are actively seeking comment from Carl King, Christopher Mitchell, Alex Penson, and the alleged victim.  All four are mentioned in the report, and all four may be able to answer some of the lingering questions regarding the incident and the investigation of it.

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Rams release Kendall Langford

St Louis Rams v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Rams joined some of their rivals around the league in creating more cap space on Thursday by parting ways with a veteran member of the club.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the team has released defensive tackle Kendall Langford. Langford was set to make $6 million in the final year of a four-year contract that he signed before the start of the 2012 season and the Rams will now have that money to use in other ways this offseason.

Langford started the first 32 games he played for the Rams and had five sacks as an interior rusher during the 2013 season, but the drafting of Aaron Donald in the first round of last year’s draft moved him into a rotational role. Langford was also a longtime starter in Miami before joining the Rams and that experience should lead to interest in his services from other teams.

Tackle Jake Long, who is coming off a torn ACL, and quarterback Sam Bradford could provide further cap relief for the Rams through releases or restructurings before the start of the new league year.

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NFL on Greg Hardy: He can’t be reinstated because he has yet to be disciplined

Greg Hardy AP

Thursday’s ruling in the Adrian Peterson case regarding retroactive application of the new personal conduct policy presumably helps Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. It necessarily means that the NFL can’t apply the new personal conduct policy to him.

The league has responded to the argument that the Peterson decision should result in the immediate reinstatement of defensive end Greg Hardy by pointing out that he has not yet been suspended.

“He hasn’t been disciplined. There is nothing for him to seek reinstatement from at this point,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The first part is accurate, if we suspend disbelief on the notion that missing games with pay isn’t discipline. The second part isn’t accurate. Hardy currently is on the Commissioner-Exempt list pending the outcome of his personal-conduct policy review.  He has not yet been fully reinstated to active player status.

The Peterson ruling likely won’t get Hardy reinstated; last year, arbitrator Shayam Das found that the Commissioner has the authority to keep a player on the Commissioner-Exempt even after the player’s legal case has ended.  Hardy, whose criminal charges were dismissed when the complaining witness couldn’t be produced at trial, can in theory be kept on the Commissioner-Exempt list until a decision has been made under the personal-conduct policy.

Hardy also can be disciplined under the prior personal-conduct policy. For first-time offenders who committed domestic violence, the standard penalty under the old policy was two games.  In this specific case, where Hardy ultimately faced no criminal responsibility, he arguably would get no suspension for a first offense, if there’s even an actual “offense.”

Regardless, the league needs to process Hardy’s case the same way it would have been processed prior to the release of the Ray Rice in-elevator video.  The league also needs to move quickly, given that Hardy is due to hit free agency in 12 days.

It would be convenient for the NFL to drag its feet on this, justifying the kind of delay that could cost Hardy millions on the open market by pointing out that he got $13.1 million for playing in only one game last season.  But that’s precisely the kind of results-oriented decision-making that has caused the NFL’s legal docket to recently resemble the 2008 Detroit Lions.

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