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Johnny Jolly’s neck injury is season-ending

Philadelphia Eagles  v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said yesterday that defensive tackle Johnny Jolly’s neck injury was “significant,” and it’s significant enough to end his season.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jolly will miss the rest of the season because of a bulging disc in his neck (the C-5 vertebrae, to be specific). The team’s medical staff is waiting for the swelling to go down before deciding whether he needs surgery.

The injury isn’t believed to be career-threatening even if he needs fusion surgery. But he’s also 30 years old and a rotational lineman, so any medical setback will impact his chances of finding work.

“It hurts that he’s not being able to play, but he’ll bounce back,” end Ryan Pickett said. “We believe he’ll bounce back. If anyone can fight through anything, it’s Jolly. His spirits are good.

“He’s been a leader out there. He’s been playing great. He’s been a whole lot. We’re going to miss him out there for sure.”

Jolly’s comeback after three years out of the league because of drug suspensions, arrests and jail time was an impressive one, so the latest problem seems minor by comparison.

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New Vikings stadium raises bird concerns

Birds Getty Images

The new Vikings stadium will resemble in many respects a gigantic terrarium, with plenty of glass under which humans will be potentially baking.  But that’s still better than what it may do to the birds.

Deadspin recently pointed out a press release from Audubon Minnesota, which accuses the Vikings of creating a “death trap” for our fine, feathered friends (except when one of those bastards craps on my toupee).

“We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds –- and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that,” Audubon Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Anderson said.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds.  The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ – surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap.  We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

The issue isn’t a new one.  For months, concerns have been raised regarding the importance of making sure that birds won’t fly into what they believe to not be a giant slab of glass.

Per the release, Audubon Minnesota “communicated regularly with stadium developers until April 2014, when they were told that another meeting would be scheduled before a July 15 decision on the type of glass to be used.”  The meeting allegedly was canceled, and on July 17 Audubon Minnesota was told that there would be no change in the stadium glass.

Apparently, someone decided it would be cheaper to pay someone to pick up all those dead birds from the stadium grounds over the next 30 or 40 years than it will be to fix the glass.  Those costs may go up when dead birds start landing on toupees.

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Falcons waive Darius Johnson

Darius Johnson AP

The Falcons have waived a wide receiver who started a pair of games for Atlanta a season ago.

The club announced Friday it had released second-year pro Darius Johnson, who hauled in 22 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in 10 games after being promoted from the practice squad October 19.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 23-year-old Johnson played 412 regular season offensive snaps for Atlanta. However, PFF gave him the lowest rating of any of the club’s wide receivers. Johnson (5-10, 175) was targeted 43 times, according to NFL statistics.

The roster move leaves the Falcons with 89 players, including 12 wide receivers.

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Drew Brees wants to play until he’s 45

Buffalo Bills v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

No one in New Orleans is talking about a future without Drew Brees at quarterback just yet and it will be a good while before anyone starts the conversation if Brees gets his way.

Brees has seen quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre remain productive into their late 30s and believes that he can follow in their footsteps. In fact, Brees, who turns 36 in January, thinks he can last even longer than Favre, who turned 41 during his final season with the Vikings.

“No doubt. There’s no question,” Brees said, via Albert Breer of NFL Network. “I’m not getting ahead myself, like it’s a pipe dream, at 45. I understand the challenges that come along with that. But why not? If I can stay healthy, and I’m having fun and playing at a high level, why wouldn’t I wanna do that? The biggest challenge is physically, the maintenance, the recovery, the way you train. You gotta hope that you stay healthy, but why not?”

Odds are that Brees’ luck on the health front won’t be charmed enough for him to play another 10 years, but there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to play at a high level through the end of his current deal with the Saints. The team seems to agree, moving to add players like Jairus Byrd, Brandin Cooks and Champ Bailey this offseason in hopes of maximizing the championship window opened by having an elite quarterback that has already brought one title to town.

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Evan Mathis feels he had leverage, but didn’t want to strong-arm team

Howard Mudd, Evan Mathis AP

Eagles guard Evan Mathis reported for camp this week despite his desire for a new contract and his feeling that he was well-positioned to force the team’s hand because of right tackle Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension.

Had Mathis held out, the Eagles would have faced the possibility of replacing two starting offensive linemen on the fly and that could have softened their stance against reworking Mathis’ deal. Mathis, who is set to make $5 million this year in the third year of a five-year deal, still wants a new deal but said that he didn’t want to do so by potentially hurting the team at a moment when they were already missing a starter.

“It gave me plenty of leverage, if I was to hold out. The fines had nothing to do with it. But what I’d be doing to my teammates and coaches — that’s the ultimate reason,” Mathis said, via CSNPhilly.com. “I’m not trying to strong-arm the team. I’m not trying to put them in a bad situation to get what I want. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m not really worried about it. Hopefully it works out. If it doesn’t, I’m still going to be the same football player.”

Mathis’ presence will make it easier for the Eagles offense to succeed while Johnson is out of the lineup and it could help get things moving with the Eagles if they feel Mathis needs to be in camp to talk about a revised deal, but the two remaining years beyond this one on the contract give them plenty of reason to wait with Mathis giving up whatever leverage he may have had.

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Pounceys sued by three people after alleged incident at nightclub

Pouncey Getty Images

Somehow, the Pouncey twins’ birthday party featuring the “Free Hernandez” hats ended up being less eventful than this year’s self-celebration of survival for another 365 days.

Andy Slater of 940 WINZ in Miami has obtained a copy of the civil complaint filed by Riquan James, Brantley Williams, and Niya Pickett against Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey over an incident that allegedly occurred at their 2014 birthday party at the Cameo nightclub in Miami.

James alleges in the lawsuit filed Friday in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County Florida that the Pounceys and their security detail addressed him with “derogatory and homophobic remarks and anti-gay slurs,” and that the Pounceys “began to push and shove” James. When James asked them to stop, Maurkice allegedly “struck James in the face several times” before the Pounceys and their security detail began “to punch, hit and kick James while he was laying in a fetal position.”

Pickett allegedly tried to intervene, but Maurkice “punched her in the face and knocked her unconscious.” (Two-game suspension, anyone?)  Williams was a bystander into whom James and/or Pickett were thrown.

The alleged injuries to James and Pickett include “blunt force trauma to the head, neck, chest and back” and “multiple contusions and bruises over a great extent of their bodies.” Pickett allegedly suffered an eye injury, and James allegedly suffered broken teeth. Williams allegedly suffered “contusions and bruises over the great extent of her body and a laceration to her right leg, which required several stitches.”

The Pounceys have been sued for their own alleged conduct and for the alleged misconduct of their security personnel. The nightclub has been added to the suit, based on the claim that management failed to protect patrons from foreseeable criminal activity.

The Pounceys’ lawyer previously has claimed that there was no altercation with James on the evening in question, and that “[i]f the accuser continues to perpetuate these lies, we will bring an action against him.”

Presumably, surveillance video will go a long way toward confirming or debunking the allegations. Regardless, the presence of two additional plaintiffs means that there will be testimony corroborating James’ version of the events.

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John Idzik maintains Jets quarterback competition isn’t tilted to Geno Smith

Michael Vick, Geno Smith AP

It wouldn’t be a Jets training camp without beat writers painstakingly counting first-team reps for the players aspiring to be the team’s starting quarterback and the practice has continued in 2014.

Geno Smith has taken 75 percent of the snaps with the first team in the early days of camp, which would seem to lend credence to the widely held belief that he has an edge over Michael Vick. It’s a belief held by Vick and one that many members of the Jets have also espoused since the start of camp, but General Manager John Idzik continues to insist that the team is not leaning in any direction.

“I don’t think it’s tilted at all,” Idzik said, via the New York Daily News. “It’s not just purely quantifiable like that and reading the playtime and the reps and drawing assumptions from that.”

Vick has a much longer track record than Smith and it is understandable that the Jets would feel less of a need to see him in action right now, especially since he has already played for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. When every other sign points to it being Smith’s job to lose, though, it points more to the Jets wanting Smith to avoid any complacency that could come with having the job than the kind of open competition that the team has said it is at other points this offseason.

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Ravens PR chief, owner rise to the defense of Ray Rice

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After leading the league in offseason arrests, enduring the backlash that stemmed from a punishment which practically no one agrees is fair (and then signing a three-time violator of the league’s drug and PED policies), the Ravens have taken the obvious next step in a fabulous week for their image.

They’ve had their senior vice president of public relations write 1,200 words about what a great guy Ray Rice is.

No, really.

To his credit, longtime PR man Kevin Byrne understands that he’s not going to change many minds, but apparently felt compelled to share some personal reflections about all the good things Ray Rice has done.

Then again, he also oversees the messaging for a team that thought it would be a good idea to live-tweet Janay Rice’s apologizing for getting knocked out, bringing victim-blaming rushing into the 21st century with a deft social media flourish.

He also used his position to get a nice EXCLUSIVE with his boss, Ravens owner Steve Biscioitti, after asking if he thought this was a good idea.

“That’s your call,” Bisciotti said. “I don’t think Ray needs it, and I don’t think you’ll change the minds of those who don’t want to have anything to do with Ray. . . . How sad we all are that he tarnished his image. No one outside, I’ve learned, can understand how we look at these guys as our sons and close friends as opposed to just employees.

“I saw that clearly when we lost the AFC championship at New England [at the end of the 2011 season],” the owner continued. “I had friends tell me, ‘You must hate Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff. They cost you a trip to the Super Bowl.’ It was the opposite – we felt for Lee and Billy. I wished that they’d get another chance. I felt the need to protect them like I would one of my sons. It’s not like that in my other businesses.

“Don’t we all have days or moments or periods in our life we regret? Ray showed great character for the six years I’ve known him. He has shown remorse after a bad incident. It was out of character. I don’t think now is the time to abandon him. You say we are a Ravens’ family. I’ve come to believe that.”

This is followed by the kind of things you’d expect someone who likes Ray Rice to tell you, about his remorse and civic concern, and another affirmation from Bisciotti that taking care of their own was a good idea.

But it’s probably not, if only for the fact it underscores how tone-deaf the Ravens have been throughout this entire incident.

Having a press-conference with no questions allowed was a sham, a clumsy effort to divert attention on a Friday afternoon. Live-tweeting Rice’s wife trying to jump on a grenade for her husband that day was tasteless at best. John Harbaugh’s tone of mild annoyance in discussing Rice’s two-game absence was cringe-worthy.

And frankly, trying to explain away the negative reaction to domestic violence is beneath them.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

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Vick Ballard carted off at Colts practice

Vick Ballard, Tracy Porter AP

Running back Vick Ballard got the green light to participate in training camp this week, a little less than 11 months after he tore his ACL in the season opener last season.

Ballard’s return to work has taken a turn for the worse, however. Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star reports that Ballard was carted off the field during Friday’s practice.

Chappell and colleague Stephen Holder are both speculating that Ballard injured his ankle, with Holder reporting that Ballard wasn’t able to put any weight on his left foot.

We’ll wait for something more official from the Colts, but any extended absence for Ballard would put more pressure on Trent Richardson to live up to the price — a first-round pick — that the Colts paid to acquire him in a trade with the Browns last season. The Colts have expressed plenty of optimism that Richardson will do so, but having Ballard would make life much easier on Indy this season.

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Report: Johnny Manziel’s off-field actions have “alarmed” Browns

Johnny Manziel AP

At the outset of training camp comes a published report indicating the Browns’ organization is concerned about Johnny Manziel’s offseason off-field activities.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday the Browns were “alarmed” by a few of Manziel’s off-field actions since joining the organization, with the now-infamous dollar bill picture particularly of concern to the club.

Moreover, the Plain Dealer reports that Manziel’s play in OTAs “regressed” as the workouts went on — and that members of the organization believed it could be chalked up to Manziel not being diligent enough in his work.

What’s more, the Plain Dealer, citing sources, reported that some in the organization believed Manziel had “lost ground” in the battle to beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job.

In more positive news for Manziel, the Plain Dealer reported that Manziel practiced well on Thursday. But it’s clear Manziel’s first professional offseason didn’t exactly go as some in the organization as hoped. Now, it’s on the Browns’ first-round pick to prove any discussion of his off-field habits is much ado about nothing.

But for now, before the games have begun, it is definitely something — especially when there’s now a report from one of the club’s long-time beat writers indicating there’s concern he wasn’t putting in the necessary time this offseason.

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Atkins, Jones still not ready to practice for Bengals

Geno Atkins AP

The good news for the Bengals is that a bunch of players have been elevated to the active roster from the Physically Unable to Perform or Non-Football Injury lists.

The bad news is that none of the seven are named Geno Atkins or Marvin Jones.

Added to the active roster were defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi, guard Clint Boling, cornerback Leon Hall, punter Kevin Huber, receiver Colin Lockett, cornerback Onterio McCalebb, and guard Mike Pollak.

Atkins remains on the PUP list after tearing an ACL during the 2013 season. Jones was placed on NFI after tweaking an ankle while working out away from the facility with quarterback Andy Dalton.

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Vikings sign two receivers, place Captain Munnerlyn on PUP

Green Bay Packers v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Vikings changed out two roster spots Friday, signing wide receivers Andy Cruse and Ty Walker and waiving undrafted rookie offensive tackle Matt Hall and third-year wide receiver Josh Cooper.

Cruse (6-3, 216) spent time on Houston’s practice squad in 2013, while Walker (5-10, 191) had practice squad stints with Green Bay and Seattle a season ago. The 24-year-old Cruse is a Miami (Ohio) product, while Walker, 23, played at Illinois State. Both players entered the NFL last spring as undrafted free agents.

The Vikings also placed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, tight end Chase Ford, and safety Andrew Sendejo on the active/physically unable to perform list. According to coach Mike Zimmer, Munnerlyn has a “slight” hamstring ailment, while Sendejo has ankle and lower back ailments. Ford is dealing with a foot injury.

The Vikings are at the 90-player limit.

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Rob Gronkowski: I’m not changing my style one bit

Rob Gronkowski AP

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s right knee is feeling well enough that the Patriots felt confident that he didn’t need to start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but Gronkowski said Friday that isn’t the same thing as being 100 percent.

Gronkowski expects to be limited in practice when the team is in full pads as he works to make sure he’s totally healthy in time for the first game of the season. That wasn’t the case last year, when Gronkowski’s back and forearm surgeries conspired to keep him off the field early in the year. Once Gronkowski is fully operational, he says that the slew of injuries won’t impact his playing style.

“Nah, I ain’t changing that one bit,” Gronkowski said, via WEEI. “I’m going to go full speed when I’m out there and I’m going to keep smashing and dashing in everything I do. Maybe if it’s not necessary one single bit I’ll go down [to the ground]. But if I can make some plays and make some extra yards and get in the end zone, I’m definitely going to go full speed and do everything I can.”

While Gronkowski and the Patriots would be wise to eliminate unnecessary risks, there aren’t that many of those involved in the life of an NFL tight end who is essential to his team’s offensive success. Gronkowski is going to get hit when he has the ball, he’s going to get hit when he’s blocking and he’s going to be left in vulnerable positions while trying to catch balls, all of which are integral to doing his job and going less than 100 percent in any area is going to lead to more bad outcomes than good ones.

That may mean more injuries, but that risk comes with the rewards of having Gronkowski in the lineup.

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Rolando McClain sentenced to 18 days in jail, appealing

Rolando McClain AP

The Cowboys are trying to give linebacker Rolando McClain another fresh start, but he still has to account for past mistakes.

According to Paul Gattis of al.com, McClain was found guilty Friday of two misdemeanor charges from a 2013 incident in his hometown, and was sentenced to 18 days in jail.

(Man, when the Ravens hear about this, they might try to trade for him, just by reflex.)

McClain’s lawyer’s filed an immediate appeal to get to a jury trial, which will allow McClain to return to Cowboys training camp.

The charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest came after he allegedly yelled “F— the police” in a crowded park in Decatur.

There was apparently tape of that being said, but whether it was clearly McClain is in some dispute, according to his lawyer.

Police video did show McClain telling officers: “You can’t expect to be arrested 3 times in 3 years and play in NFL.”

Maybe he knew something we didn’t.

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Schneider confirms Lynch holdout, team’s lack of interest in giving him new deal

Schneider AP

Earlier today, the Seahawks announced that they had reached the 90-man roster limit.  Before too long, they’ll go back to 89 by placing running back Marshawn Lynch on the reserve/did not report list.

In an interview with ESPN 710 in Seattle, Seahawks G.M. John Schneider said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, that Marshawn has “made a decision not to be here.”  Schneider’s comments also indicated that the team has made a decision not to do anything about it.

“There is a specific plan in place here and it’s my responsibility to [owner Paul Allen] and the fans to try to provide a consistent championship-caliber football team, one that the fans feel we have a shot every year,” Schneider said.

“[J]ust two years ago Marshawn was one of our first guys we were able to reward in terms of this plan going forward,” Schneider said, referring to Lynch’s four-year, $30 million contract.

So if Lynch doesn’t show, the Seahawks will rely on the next man up.  Schneider pointed out that coach Pete Carroll and his staff “do a good job of teaching young players and getting them ready to play.”

Does that mean Christine Michael and/or Robert Turbin can get it done if Lynch doesn’t show?

“I think it’s a fair question,” Schneider said.  “But I think obviously Marshawn Lynch is a heck of a running back, you know what I mean?  But it’s just like we had players at different positions, like last year we ran into the deal with [cornerbacks] Brandon Browner and [Byron] Maxwell steps up and has to go. . . .  I think that the players and teammates think that they are comfortable with the next player.  And that’s no disrespect to Marshawn — everybody knows what he can do.”

Soon, we all may find out what Turbin and Michael can do.

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Belichick on Jerod Mayo: He’s the guy that the team revolves around

Jerod Mayo AP

There’s been a big focus on the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason, something that makes sense given how much better the New England offense was when Gronk was in the lineup last season than it was when he was out of action.

Gronkowski wasn’t the only key member of the Patriots to miss large portions of last season, however, and coach Bill Belichick spent some time Friday explaining how important one of the other returning players is to the team. Belichick says that linebacker Jerod Mayo is vital to what the team hopes to accomplish on both sides of the ball.

“I think he means a lot to our team. He’s, I’d say, really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player. Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that but I think he touches pretty much everybody, not just the defensive players but all the guys; not just the older guys but the younger guys,” Belichick said in his Friday press conference. “He’s got great work ethic, great presence on the football field and great personality that’s, I’d say, in a very good way professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and the coaches. I think he’s as well respected as any player in the locker room. I’d say one of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of a glue chemistry guy I’d say that I’ve been around.”

The Patriots like to attack teams in multiple ways defensively, something that was difficult last year when Mayo was out of the lineup for 10 games with a torn pectoral muscle. With Mayo back as a mentor for Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower and other young members of the front seven, Vince Wilfork back from an Achilles injury and Darrelle Revis joining the secondary, the Pats have a defense that looks as good as any they’ve had since the early days of Belichick’s tenure as head coach.

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