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Union will study low hits in offseason

Gronko AP

Plenty of players have complained in recent years about low hits.  Most would rather take a high hit (and a possible concussion) when defenseless than a low hit (and a possible knee injury).

Collectively, the players have not yet made a push to expand protections for defenseless receivers to include low hits.  Per a league source, the NFLPA plans to study after the season ends all data regarding knee injuries before deciding whether to make a push for the establishment of a strike zone.

Even if the players don’t ask for it, the league may do it anyway.  Albert Breer of NFL Network has reported that the Competition Committee will consider in the offseason protecting defenseless receivers against being struck below the thigh.

The ability to hit opponents low helps smaller players take out bigger players.  Over the past four decades, however, the NFL has periodically and systematically restricted the situations in which a player can strike another player low.

As Breer points out, the lower limit to a strike zone wouldn’t have protected Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was running in the open field when hit low and necessarily not defenseless.  Of course, Gronkowski wasn’t protected against a high hit in that situation, either.  But when he’s running in the open field few defensive backs can deliver a high hit to a guy that tall.

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Plans for Favre’s Lambeau return in November on hold due to Bart Starr’s health

FAVRE AP

The Packers will be retiring Brett Favre’s No. 4 and putting him in the team’s Hall of Fame next year, but Favre was planning an earlier return to Lambeau Field that now looks unlikely to happen.

Favre was planning to join Bart Starr on the field for the team’s November 9 game against the Bears, but told Ed Werder of ESPN that Starr’s recent health troubles make it unlikely to happen. Starr recently had a heart attack and two strokes and Favre said that he’s averse to taking part if Starr is unable to participate.

“I’m sure they could, but it was my idea to do it, and now that Bart can’t, I just don’t think I will,” Favre said.

Had the appearance taken place, all three Packer quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl would have been at Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday that Starr’s health should be the focus rather than any delay in Favre’s return.

“I think the key here is Bart and his health. That’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

There were no concrete plans for what the appearance would entail, although Werder reports there were discussions about the two quarterback serving as honorary captains and participating in the pre-game coin toss.

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Rice appeal hearing set for November 5-6

Rice

Last week, the Ray Rice appeal hearing tentatively was set for early November.  The tentative has now become more definite.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the hearing will occur on November 5 and 6.

Like every other legal proceeding that’s ever been scheduled, the dates could be changed.  And the days could be expanded, with a third day or more eventually set aside for testimony and argument.

Appeal officer Barbara S. Jones previously worked as a federal judge, which means she possibly selected the dates based on information from the lawyers regarding the number of witnesses to be called and the estimated duration of the testimony.

Far bigger than the “when” is the “who”; Judge Jones is expected to rule this week on the question of whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will be required to testify.  The NFL Players Association believes his testimony is critical to the process.  The NFL is resisting the effort to force him to answer questions under oath.

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Amobi Okoye expected to practice on Thursday

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Over the summer, we learned the details of the illness that caused defensive lineman Amobi Okoye to miss all of last season.

Okoye was diagnosed with anti-NMDA encephalitis, a condition that led doctors to put him in a medically-induced coma. Okoye lost 78 pounds while recovering and signed with Dallas in May. He was able to get cleared for contact by the Cowboys at the end of the summer, but remained on the non-football illness list so he could continue his rehab.

Players on NFI are eligible to return to practice and Okoye’s attorney told Adam Caplan of ESPN that Okoye is expected to do just that on Thursday. If he does, it will open up a three-week window for the team to decide whether to put Okoye on the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Okoye said recently that he’s eager to find out what he’s able to do.

“I’m just letting it freewheel,” Okoye said. “I’m excited. I’m anxious. At the same time I’m curious.”

The Cowboys defensive line has already welcomed defensive end Anthony Spencer back from a long absence and plan to get rookie DeMarcus Lawrence back in Week Nine when he’s eligible to return from injured reserve. If Okoye is able to join them, it would only help a good Dallas defense weather the long season. The fact that it’s a possibility is remarkable by itself, though.

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Buccaneers DE Da’Quan Bowers suspended for PED violation

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers have a number of problems this year, and now they have another one.

The league announced that defensive end Da’Quan Bowers had been suspended two games for violating the league’s performance enhancing substance policy.

Bowers, a former second-round pick, has been a disappointment in the NFL. Knee injuries kept him from showing the kind of pass-rush skills he had at Clemson, and he was no lock to make the Bucs roster this year during camp.

He has 6.5 career sacks, one of them this year.

He’ll be eligible to return on Monday, November 3 following the team’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

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Cowboys release Michael Sam from practice squad

Sam AP

A lot has happened since the Rams cut defensive end Michael Sam, he languished for a few days, and then he landed on the Cowboys’ practice squad.  Out of sight and largely out of mind, Sam is once again out of an NFL job.

Per multiple reports, the Cowboys have released Sam from the practice squad.  The first openly gay player in NFL history is now free to sign with any other team’s practice squad.

Throughout the past seven weeks, he also has been available to sign with any team’s 53-man roster.  But there has been no chatter or interest in anyone doing that.

The NFL reportedly had made a couple of phone calls aimed at persuading someone to give Sam a spot on the practice squad, before the Cowboys did.  With domestic violence lingering on the NFL’s front burner, however, the league may no longer be concerned about avoiding the perception that Sam was rejected based on his sexual orientation.

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Seahawks didn’t contact Patriots about Harvin trade

Percy AP

Nearly four days removed from the trade that sent receiver Percy Harvin from Seattle to the Jets, several confusing issues remain.

For example, if the Seahawks had become sufficiently fed up with Harvin that they would have cut him if they couldn’t have traded him, why didn’t they try to maximize their otherwise minimal return on the investment?  The easy answer is that they wanted to steer Harvin to a non-contender, a team that the Seahawks would be unlikely to face down the road, especially in the postseason.  And with the Jets at 1-6, there’s little risk that the Seahawks would encounter Harvin on February 1 in Arizona.  (Especially since Seattle will now have a hard time getting there.)

But the Seahawks reportedly called the Broncos about a deal that would have sent Harvin to Denver for tight end Julius Thomas.  So contending teams weren’t out of the question.

As AFC contenders go, the Patriots would have been the most intriguing choice.  Given Bill Belichick’s friendship with former Florida coach Urban Meyer, Belichick’s history of taking chances on receivers like Chad Ochocinco and Randy Moss, and the team’s clear need for playmakers on offense, the Patriots could have been drawn into a bidding war with the Jets for the kind of versatile weapon Belichick would love to have.  Which could have gotten the Jets more than a sixth-round pick that only becomes a fourth-round pick if Harvin remains on the Jets’ roster in 2015.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Seahawks didn’t talk to the Patriots about a possible Harvin trade.  It’s not known what the Patriots would have said, or whether they at a minimum would have feigned interest to get the Jets to give up more.  Regardless, it looks like the Seahawks were so intent to get rid of Harvin before the possibility of trading him leaked that they ended up doing a deal that wasn’t as good as it maybe could have been.

That’s not a knock on the Seahawks.  It merely demonstrates that, once they knew they were moving on, they moved quickly and decisively, possibly to avoid the distractions that would come from a week of two of rumors and reports regarding the possibility that Harvin would be traded.  It also shows that, for whatever reason, they decided not to do business with the Patriots.

Maybe the best explanation is that coach Pete Carroll, the last coach fired by owner Bob Kraft before Bill Belichick was hired, didn’t want to do anything to help the Patriots get better.

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Panthers release defensive back Charles Godfrey

Carolina Panthers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Panthers tried to make Charles Godfrey something he wasn’t.

So now, they made him unemployed.

Godfrey’s agent just tweeted out word that the Panthers were releasing the veteran defensive back today.

Godfrey, a former third-round pick, was moved from safety to nickel cornerback this year, after the Panthers cut his pay and signed NFC South cast-offs Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper.

It’s debatable that either was better than Godfrey, even as he was coming back from a torn Achilles last year.

Godfrey did struggle, particularly against the Packers last week.

He also represents another move by General Manager Dave Gettleman to cull the herd of players who were given contract extensions by former G.M. Marty Hurney immediately after the lockout.

They filled his roster spot by signing offensive lineman Chris Scott, who was started for them last year but was cut after training camp this season.

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Cullen Jenkins expected to miss some time with calf injury

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The center of the Giants defense is hurting at the moment.

Linebacker Jon Beason is headed for a meeting with foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson after leaving last Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys with a problem in the same foot that he originally injured in the offseason and then re-injured earlier this season. That sounds like a scenario that could cause Beason to miss some time and it would come with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins out of the lineup as well.

Jenkins injured his calf in Dallas and is expected to be out once the Giants return from their bye. Mike Patterson will start in his place and defensive line coach Robert Nunn said that Damontre Moore will also see more time as the Giants try to replace Jenkins as a pass rusher.

“With the absence of Cullen inside, [Moore's] going to be more and more involved and get more at-bats,” Nunn said, via NJ.com. “He has to produce when he’s out there. And his production will determine how much playing time he gets.”

Moore has two sacks this season while playing in a limited role. With a tough schedule awaiting them after the bye, adding to that total would be a big boost to the team.

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Dion Jordan returns to work with Dolphins

Dion Jordan AP

The Dolphins had to wait a little longer than they originally expected to get Dion Jordan back at work, but the day finally arrived on Tuesday.

Jordan took part in the team’s practice after being suspended for the first six games of the season. Jordan was originally suspended four games in the offseason for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but had that suspension wiped out when the league and NFLPA agreed on a new policy two weeks into the season.

Jordan was suspended for four more games at that point for a separate violation, however, and the Dolphins have had to go without the third overall pick of the 2013 season for the entire season as a result.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the defensive end was working with the kickoff coverage team during special teams drills in his first day back with the team. He could play that role this week, but the Dolphins don’t need to immediately clear a roster spot for him because they have a one-week exemption before they’re forced to put him on the roster.

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Report: Jets to sign wide receiver Jeremy Kerley to extension

New York Jets v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Jets aren’t finished spending money on wide receivers.

This one seems to be a more stable investment, however.

According to Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Jets are expected to announce a four-year contract extension for wide receiver Jeremy Kerley today.

The former fifth-rounder is in the final year of his rookie contract.

He has 22 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown this year (though just seven catches the last four games), and would be a viable third option if things work out with Eric Decker and Percy Harvin. He caught 99 balls the previous two seasons.

 

 

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Bills place Spiller on IR, with designation to return

Spiller Getty Images

As expected, Bills running back C.J. Spiller has been placed on injured reserve after surgery to repair a broken collarbone.  As not expected, he has been given the one-per-team-per-year designation for return.

With Week Eight approach, it means Spiller can return to game action in Week 16.  Which means he’d be available, in theory, for games at Oakland and New England, along with any playoff games.

It’s unclear whether Spiller will be healed by Week 16.  A source with direct knowledge of the situation told PFT on Sunday that Spiller was done for the year.

Then again, with a shrinking window for using the designation for return, the Bills needed to use it on someone, or they quite possibly would have used it on no one.

To replace Spiller on the roster, the Bills have signed running back Phillip Tanner.

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With three home games in 12 days, Bengals are facing blackouts

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The Bengals, who have qualified for the playoffs in three straight years, have had trouble selling tickets this year.  In the midst of an 0-2-1 slump, the Bengals face arguably their biggest box-office test of the season; they’ve got three home games in a 12-day span.

“We still have tickets available for each of the three games and are working hard to sell as many as we can and get the games on TV,” Bengals ticket sales manager Andrew Brown said.

On Sunday, the Bengals host the Ravens.  The following Sunday, the Bengals host the Jaguars.  Four days later, the Browns come to town for a Thursday night game.

The Bengals decided before the season to reduce their non-premium ticket threshold to 85 percent to ensure that the games will be televised locally, but they’re still facing the possibility of one or more blackouts.

No NFL games have been blacked out on local TV yet this year.  Last month, the FCC voted to end government support for the blackout rule.  The league and the broadcast networks still have the ability to privately agree not to televise the games, if they aren’t sold out within 72 hours before kickoff.

If/when the NFL continues to black out games, Congress could intensify efforts to force the NFL to permit all games to be televised in the local market, regardless of the amount of tickets sold.

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League won’t fine Kuechly

Kuechly Getty Images

Yes. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was ejected from Sunday’s game for making contact with an official.  No, he won’t be fined.

Yes (or no?), that’s not inconsistent.

Per a league source, Kuechly won’t be fined for that which got him ejected.  The decision not to fine Kuechly was first reported by Ed Werder of ESPN.

Kuechly won’t be fined because he didn’t know he was making contact with an official.  But while inadvertence and the absence of intent won’t get Kuechly fined, the league believes the right call was made to kick Kuechly out.

It’s a delicate balance.  If a strict liability standard applies when it comes to contact with officials, a player who makes inadvertent, unintentional contact with an official should be both ejected and fined.

Maybe an ejection but no fine is the right balance to strike where the contact wasn’t intended.  Still, it’s hard to reconcile the rules as written with their application.

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League introduces NFL Sportsmanship Award

2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Getty Images

The NFL has announced that a new annual Sportsmanship Award, to be determined by a player vote, will be given out on the day before the Super Bowl.

The announcement comes at a time when the league is eager to promote its high-character players while ugly cases of off-field misconduct have cast the NFL in a negative light. The Sportsmanship Award will join the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes good works off the field, in putting a spotlight on those players who conduct themselves the right way.

Other leagues including the NBA and the NHL already have awards for sportsmanship, but this will be the first season in which the NFL gives such an award.

Each team will nominate one player from its own team for the Sportsmanship Award. The league has appointed a panel of former players — Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler — to take the list of 32 nominees and come up with a list of eight finalists. Then the active players will vote among the eight finalists at the same time that they vote on the Pro Bowl rosters.

The recipient of the Sportsmanship Award will get a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice from the NFL Foundation.

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Eagles getting some bodies back in practice, including Darren Sproles

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Eagles got some needed rest over the bye week, and they got some guys back on the practice field today.

According to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com, the Eagles got center Jason Kelce, running back Darren Sproles and linebacker Mychal Kendricks back on the practice field today.

While that’s no guarantee they’ll play this week against the Cardinals this week, it’s still a good sign for a team that has played well through injuries this season.

Sproles sprained his MCL two weeks ago against the Giants, and the thought was he might miss some time but that it wasn’t that serious.

Kelce’s been out after sports hernia surgery, and was originally targeting a Week 10 return.

Kendricks has been out since Week Two with a calf injury, so today’s work might be the beginning of easing him back into the lineup.

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