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NFL morning after: Peyton’s place in history

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The list of players who have won at least five MVP awards in the major sports reads like a who’s who of the greatest athletes in history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in the NBA. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. Barry Bonds (perhaps with an asterisk) in Major League Baseball. And that’s it.

Peyton Manning, who almost certainly clinched the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his stellar NFL career, is about to join that list.

We could debate where Manning ranks among the all-time great quarterbacks in football history, but I almost think that’s too narrow a debate. Perhaps the discussion needs to be where Manning ranks among the great competitors in the history of sports.

Think about all Manning has accomplished. He’s already the only NFL player who has ever won four MVP awards. He already owns several NFL records and will most likely own every significant career passing record before he’s finished. In addition to his fifth MVP award this year, he’s also going to get his 13th Pro Bowl selection and his seventh first-team All-Pro selection and perhaps his eighth offensive player of the year award. Last year he added a comeback player of the year award to his trophy case. In college he was a first-team All-American and winner of the Sullivan Award as America’s greatest amateur athlete. In high school he was the national player of the year.

Manning broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in Sunday’s win over the Texans, with his 51st touchdown pass of the year giving the Broncos their final score in an easy win. Next week he’s likely to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season, as the Broncos just need to beat the Raiders to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They’re one win away from heading into the postseason as the favorites to come out of the AFC and go to the Super Bowl. But as I was watching that unfold on Sunday, I was thinking two somewhat contradictory things.

First, I was thinking that it’s undeniable how great Peyton Manning is. He’s been an American sports star since he was a teenager, and he’s the best player in the NFL today at age 37. He’s about to get his fifth MVP, and there are another few seasons when he had a good case for the award (including last year, when he came in second). He’s just consistently amazing.

But the second thing I was thinking is that, no matter how much he does individually, he won’t be remembered as the greatest ever if he doesn’t get a second Super Bowl ring. That’s not right — football is the ultimate team sport, and no one wins or loses alone — but that’s the way it is. If any team other than the Broncos is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February, this will be remembered as another year when Peyton Manning didn’t get it done.

To me, though, Manning’s place in history is secure. He’s the best quarterback who ever lived.

Manning was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Below are some other thoughts:

Dallas has a badly coached defense. We’ve been talking all season about what a bad job Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is doing, and there are many examples of that, but I was particularly struck by how ill-prepared the Dallas defense was when Washington showed a new formation on Sunday. With Washington’s offense lining up four receivers to the left side early in the second half, the Dallas secondary didn’t know how to line up in coverage, and so they blew a timeout — and then Dallas gave up a touchdown pass two plays after that timeout. If your defense is wasting timeouts because you can’t figure out what the other team’s offense is doing, and if you can’t get your coverage straightened out even after you’ve called timeout, you’ve got serious problems. Firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin was a huge mistake for the Cowboys.

Weird call that I liked: Longtime Jaguars center Brad Meester had never caught a pass in his NFL career, but because he was playing his last home game after announcing that he’ll retire at the end of the season, the Jags decided to call a trick play with Meester as an eligible receiver. Sure enough, Meester caught the pass and then made a nifty little move to run for a first down. The Jaguars have had a rough season, but they haven’t quit on coach Gus Bradley, and plays like that pass to Meester show why: Players enjoy playing for a coach who makes football fun, and what’s more fun than letting a 300-pound 36-year-old catch a pass?

Weird call that I disliked, Part 1: With the Broncos facing fourth-and-3 in Houston, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — Denver’s offense should be able to pick up three yards on Houston’s defense. But I hated the play they ran, with Peyton Manning throwing a short pass to tight end Julius Thomas, who was tackled for a two-yard gain. If you’re throwing on fourth down, throw past the line to gain.

Weird call that I disliked, Part 2: With the Titans facing fourth-and-goal in Jacksonville, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — you’ve got nothing to lose, why not go for it? But I hated the play they ran, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing it out the back of the end zone. If you’re throwing on fourth down, don’t throw it away.

Terron Armstead wasn’t ready. Armstead, the rookie left tackle inserted into the Saints’ starting lineup for the first time on Sunday, looked pretty much the way you’d expect a rookie from a small school like Arkansas-Pine Bluff to look in his first NFL start. The Saints have had problems on their offensive line all year, and I understand why Sean Payton wanted to see if Armstead could help protect Drew Brees’s blind side, but Armstead simply wasn’t up to the task. The Panthers’ pass rush terrorized Brees all day.

Luke Kuechly is amazing. The flip side of the Saints’ offense struggling is that the Panthers’ defense was incredible in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Kuechly, the second-year linebacker, had an unbelievable day: His 24 tackles were tied for the most the NFL has ever recorded by one player in a game, since tackles began being tracked as a statistic in 1994. Kuechly also became the first player since Derrick Brooks to record 20 tackles and an interception in the same game.

How can teams play so badly, with so much on the line? The Bears entered Sunday night knowing a win would clinch the NFC North. They lost 54-11. The Ravens entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They lost 41-7. The Lions entered Sunday knowing they needed to win to stay alive. They lost at home to the woeful Giants. The Dolphins entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They were destroyed by the hapless Bills.

We have an exciting Week 17 ahead of us. Some years all of the top teams are locked into their playoff spots before the season’s final Sunday. But not this year. Only one team, the Chiefs, knows its playoff seed (No. 5 in the AFC). Every other contender still has something to play for. We’re going to see some great football on Sunday. Including, I expect, Peyton Manning to set a new NFL record for passing yards in a season while leading the Broncos to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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June 21 looms as key date for Oakland stadium effort

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In early June, the Chargers will commence the process of figuring out whether they can stay in San Diego. Within a few weeks, the Raiders will learn more about whether they can stay in Oakland.

Raiders owner Mark Davis explained to ESPN’s John Clayton that an update on the efforts of Floyd Kephart to find the extra money needed for an Oakland stadium will be provided by the end of next month.

“They are attempting to come up with that $400 million gap through some type of a real estate development deal,” Davis said. “By June 21, they’re supposed to come with a financing plan to the city and the county and then to us. We’ll see if it’s a doable deal or not. We’re hoping that it is.”

Davis wants to build a new Oakland stadium in the site of the current one, with a $500 million private contribution that includes a $200 million loan from the NFL. The estimated price of a new Raiders stadium in Oakland is $900 million — far cheaper than most modern football venues.

“If we were to be in Oakland, we don’t really need to have all the bells and whistles on the stadium,” Davis said. “What we want is a football stadium. We don’t need massive clubs and things of that nature. The three things that are most important to me in a stadium up here would be ingress, egress and parking. The reason I bring those things up is that it makes it easy for people to get in and out and the parking. Tailgating is such a major part of the Raiders game day experience for our fans, that it’s something that I’m not willing to give up. Parking is such an important thing. If we have those things and were able to build a football stadium, similar to Seattle or something of that nature, we’d be more than happy.”

If that can’t happen, happiness would come via a move to Carson, in a joint stadium to be shared with the Chargers. Which has sparked an unlikely alliance between Davis and Chargers owner Dean Spanos.

“Dean and I have always seen each other but we’ve rarely talked, and I think it was a competitive-type thing,” Davis said. “We did have a vicious and we still do have a very vicious rivalry going on the football field. But once Dean and I got together about three or four months ago to talk about this project, we really got along. We have similar business principles and things are working out pretty good in that respect.”

It’s believed that a shared stadium would end the twice-per-year rivalry by resulting in one of the two teams changing conferences. Davis calls that angle premature.

“That hasn’t been brought up to me yet,” Davis said. “That hasn’t even been one of the discussion points. I know it’s been brought up by other people in the media and things of that nature, but that issue hasn’t been brought up. I think that’s something that the League will deal with when the time comes.”

Or “if” the time comes. Davis presumably hopes it’s an “if” not a “when.” And it’s possible that his use of “when” was a slip that reveals what he truly wants for the Chargers.

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Saturday one-liners

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Some big names could be bounced by the Bills, including RB Fred Jackson.

Should the Dolphins be concerned about their interior offensive line?

Yes, the Patriots opened a portion of Friday’s OTA session to the media; no, the players didn’t have numbers on their shirts — or for the first time on the backs of their helmets.

Former Chan Gailey pupil Kordell Stewart believes the Jets new offensive coordinator will help QB Geno Smith flourish.

Young defensive players were happy to see veteran Ravens LB Daryl Smith participate in OTAs.

The tackle-rich Bengals likely aren’t inclined to trade one to Denver.

The Browns have dumped LS Christian Yount, which suggests that Charley Hughlett will get the job in 2015.

Steelers DT Daniel McCullers shed 15 pounds through a no soda, Doritos, or video-game-binge diet.

Jaguars receivers coach Jerry Sullivan says his unit lacks a “drum major,” but it has “a lot of guys I trust.”

Titans K Ryan Succop didn’t arm wrestle QB Marcus Mariota for No. 8; Succop simply gave it to him.

Colts P Pat McAfee sold out 1,600 tickets to a July 11 standup comedy show; a second show has been added.

Here’s the story behind the giant bruise on the leg of Texans DE J.J. Watt.

LB Von Miller will be used on the strong side in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense.

Chiefs WR Kenny Cook can relate to S Eric Berry; Cook overcame Hodgkin lymphoma in high school.

New Raiders RB Roy Helu is the “most excited I’ve been to play football in the NFL thus far.”

Expectations are increasing for second-year Chargers CB Jason Verrett.

Cowboys DE Randy Gregory calls himself “a little bit goofy” and an “introvert.”

Here are the three biggest surprises from the first week of Giants OTA sessions.

Should the Eagles have used RB Darren Sproles more often in 2014?

Could CB Chris Culliver be the key to improving the Washington secondary?

Bears undrafted rookie DT Terry Williams is known as the “Swamp Monster.”

Lions DE Corey Wootton says he never felt comfortable in the Minnesota defense last year.

Packers DL B.J. Raji has embraced yoga.

The Vikings have outgrown their Winter Park headquarters, and could move from Eden Prairie to Chanhassen.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan likes the increased pace of practice under Dan Quinn.

Here are five observations on the Panthers’ OTA sessions from the past week.

Compete Street” has appeared at the Saints’ practice facility.

CB Alterraun Verner is encouraged by the depth the Buccaneers are building at cornerback.

Get to know Cardinals QB Phillip Sims.

The 49ers have added a ring of artificial turf around the grass field.

Seahawks S Kam Chancellor says he’s had the strongest offseason of his career.

Here’s a great look at the background and upbringing of Rams G.M. Les Snead.

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Plaxico Burress avoids jail on tax evasion charges

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Steve Martin’s “I forgot” defense apparently works.

Former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress won’t be going to prison for failing to pay income taxes. Via TMZ, Burress avoided incarceration by simply paying the money he allegedly didn’t pay to the State of New Jersey in 2013.

Burress claimed he made a “simple mistake,” not by forgetting to pay (so the Steve Martin thing was a bit of a stretch) but by trying to pay via bad electronic check. He owed nearly $48,000.

Indicted last month, Burress faced up to a decade in prison. Seven years ago, Burress served almost two years after shooting himself in the leg with a gun in New York City. Which is far different from, and yet eerily similar to, performing with an arrow through the head while performing live from New York on Saturday night.

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Jets give Brandon Marshall a raise

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall makes a catch during voluntary minicamp ahead of the NFL football season, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) AP

The Jets want to keep veteran receiver Brandon Marshall happy.

As a result, they’ve given him a raise, Field Yates of ESPN reports.

Under Marshall’s old contract, which the Jets assumed when they acquired him in a trade with the Bears, he was due a maximum of $24.3 million over the next three years. Now Marshall could make as much as $26 million in the next three years. The Jets have also added $1.3 million in full guarantees to Marshall’s deal.

For 2015, Marshall has gone from a $7.5 million base salary and $200,000 workout bonus to a fully guaranteed $9 million base salary, with no workout bonus. Marshall is getting an even bigger raise in 2016, when he goes from a $7.9 million base salary to a $9.5 million base salary.

Marshall did, however, accept a pay cut from $8.3 million to $7.5 million on his 2017 base salary, perhaps an indication from both sides that by then Marshall will be in his mid-30s and not the same player.

Overall, this is a great deal for Marshall and a surprising move for the Jets, who could have simply told him that he was stuck playing for the contract he already signed. They obviously don’t want Marshall to become disgruntled, and they’re willing to spend some money to make sure he’s glad to be a Jet.

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Chris Canty has some advice for Marc Trestman

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Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty skipped the team’s OTA session on Friday, for a very good reason. He was hanging out with us, at the NBC Sports studio in Connecticut for Friday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN.

But while Canty was out of sight, the Ravens weren’t out of mind. He spoke with Paul Burmeister about various subjects relating to the team, including the new offense under Marc Trestman.

“I hope they don’t change it very much,” Canty said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Canty praised the balance from 2014, establishing the run and (most importantly for Canty) keeping the defense off the field. And Canty hopes that balance continues with Gary Kubiak gone and Marc Trestman in as the offensive coordinator.

“Please, Coach Trestman, don’t change a whole lot,” Canty said, laughing.

Ravens fans surely feel the same way, given that the offense in 2015 was good enough to get to the divisional round of the playoffs — and to twice build 14-point leads over the Patriots in their own building.

For all of Canty’s chat with Burmeister, click the thing in the thing under this thing.

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Lawyer claims Shembo didn’t mean to kill dog

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Every criminal defendant has a lawyer, and every lawyer for every criminal defendant says the criminal defendant didn’t do it.

In the case of former Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo, then, his lawyer claims Shembo is innocent.

Froelich added that Shembo owns a dog, and that Shembo has never injured the dog.

It’s unclear whether the Christopher Moltisante defense will work for Shembo. On one hand, there were no witnesses to Shembo’s alleged crime. On the other hand, the injuries to the dog were extensive, which means that Shembo had better have a pretty good explanation for how those injuries happened.

Then there’s the fact that Shembo’s ex will testify that Shembo admitted to killing the dog. Shembo may claim that he said he killed the dog accidentally, which makes the dog owner’s testimony regarding what Shembo actually said and his demeanor while saying it critical.

Regardless, every criminal defendant in America is entitled to broad protections aimed at ensuring innocent people aren’t sent to jail. And plenty of guilty people have successfully taken advantage of those protections over the years.

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Rams’ picks are all unsigned, with financial counseling coming first

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Most of this year’s NFL draft picks have already signed their contracts. But none of the Rams’ picks have.

That’s because the Rams’ policy is to give each player financial counseling before anyone signs a contract.

In each of the last two years, the Rams have signed all their picks en masse, after gathering the rookie class together and giving the players a course on financial management. Players are instructed on what the team calls “Financial Planning 101,” with information about how to invest and how not to go broke.

The Rams’ rookies will get signing bonuses of anywhere from $70,000 for seventh-round pick Martin Ifedi, all the way up to more than $8 million for first-round pick Todd Gurley. The Rams want to give those players the money they need to use that money wisely.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed upon in 2011 makes rookie contracts so straightforward that there’s little to negotiate, and little reason not to sign immediately. Except for the reason the Rams have found: Making sure players have some information about how to invest their money before they receive it.

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Matt Barkley: Tim Tebow’s an arm, he’s not taking my reps

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When the Eagles signed Tim Tebow, fellow quarterback Mark Sanchez dismissed Tebow as a camp arm. Coach Chip Kelly disagreed.

Eagles third-string quarterback Matt Barkley agrees with Sanchez, suggesting that Tebow was brought in so the Eagles would have another guy to throw to the receivers after GJ Kinne switched from quarterback to wide receiver.

“He’s not taking my reps on the field,” Barkley said, via NJ.com. “He’s an arm we need for the team, with G.J. making the move to receiver. Tim’s just one of us. He’s trying to make the team just like we all are. It hasn’t effected my approach to how I feel the team thinks of me or how I’m going out to compete every day.”

But while the other quarterbacks seem to see Tebow as a camp arm, it’s up to Kelly, who insists that Tebow is on the team to be a quarterback.

And really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to sign Tebow to be a camp arm because Tebow doesn’t have a good arm. Tebow’s strengths lie in his ability to improvise and make plays when things break down. If Kelly just wanted another passer to help work with the receivers in camp, he could have found a better passer than Tebow, who would have come with fewer distractions than Tebow. Kelly signed Tebow because sees something in Tebow’s potential to help the Eagles win in the fall, not just to work with the team in the summer.

Barkley should realize that because if Tebow makes the team, Barkley won’t.

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Kubiak wants Peyton practicing under center

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In the latest sign that new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will make significant changes to the offense, quarterback Peyton Manning has been spending his time under center at Organized Team Activities.

Kubiak said he knows Manning can run an offense in the shotgun, but he wants Manning to get work under center, and that’s the priority right now.

“That’s kind of the plan. We’re going to do that initially,” Kubiak said. “We know the other end of the stick (shotgun) is fine; that’s something that he’s been doing forever. So we’re going to spend a lot of time under center initially in our process and how we’re going to go about our teaching. We have a nine-day installation period that we have, so he’s going to be under [center] for a good three days before we move back, but he’s been very responsive, and he’s working extremely hard.”

Manning said he’s fine with making changes in Kubiak’s offense.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I feel like I can do it,” Manning said.

During his first three years in Denver, Manning was given free rein to run the show on the Broncos’ offense. But he won’t be given quite the same free rein this year. The Broncos are still Manning’s team. But even more, the Broncos are Kubiak’s team.

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Report: Chris Chester signs with Falcons

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Free-agent guard Chris Chester had lined up visits with the Falcons and Eagles. And he won’t be taking those visits.

Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Chester has signed with the Falcons. It’s a one-year, $2.8 million contract.

Washington released Chester earlier this week. In Atlanta, he’ll be reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Chester signed with Washington in 2011, after five seasons with the Ravens. He started all 64 regular-season games in four seasons with D.C.

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Harbaugh “wouldn’t want any other quarterback” than “superstar” Flacco

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Is Joe Flacco elite? It’s a question that has become a punchline in some circles. And coach John Harbaugh seems to be ready to punch anyone who would ask that question.

Someone asked that question, with different and more words, during a Friday press conference. And Harbaugh defended Flacco aggressively.

Joe Flacco’s been a great quarterback from the day he got here,” Harbaugh said. “You wanna look back and say this has been the most talented offense in the NFL for the last seven years and they carried Joe Flacco, you can say that if you want, but it’s ridiculous. Joe Flacco is a great player, he’s only gonna get better. I think he’s hitting his stride, hitting the peak of his career. And I wouldn’t want any other quarterback in the National Football League. Period, end of story. So just write than and be done with it, because that’s the last I really want to hear about it.

“This guy is a superstar in the National Football League, and I’m thrilled to have him and I can’t wait to see what he does with all that young talent around him.”

They’ll need more young — and cheap — talent around Flacco in 2016, once his cap number shoots from $14.55 million to $28.55 million. With the head coach speaking of Flacco in such glowing terms, it’s going to be expensive to both knock down that cap number and to extend his stay indefinitely beyond the current season.

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NaVorro Bowman returns to team drills, doesn’t like knee brace

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With multiple inside linebackers surprisingly retired, the 49ers need to get Navorro Bowman back. And they’re moving closer toward doing just that.

Bowman returned to team drills on Friday, joining the 49ers for an OTA practice session more than 16 months after tearing an ACL in the NFC title game at Seattle.

“It’s great having him back out on the field,” coach Jim Tomsula said regarding Bowman on Friday. “Then also the road he’s traveled here in the last year and a half. It’s just awesome to have him out there and I think he’s really enjoying himself.”

Bowman’s not enjoying one thing — wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee.

“He is not, they are not friends,” Tomsula said of Bowman and his brace. “But, we really want him to wear it. Just why not, that’s all. And you know what, he’s doing great with it, he is. But, you know Bo. He’s something else, just pushing, pushing, pushing.”

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland called it a career after the 2014 season, making Bowman a key component of a defense that is squarely in transition, especially with defensive lineman Justin Smith retired, too.

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Browns’ offense appears to be moving on from Manziel

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Josh McCown is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback in Cleveland, to the extent that Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick of the Browns last year, appears to be largely an afterthought at Organized Team Activities.

After reporting on the first week of OTAs, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland describes Manziel as “a fish out of water” in the offense the Browns are installing. Grossi writes that the Browns don’t seem to be developing Manziel so much as they’re moving on from him.

At the practice the media were allowed to watch, Manziel seemed to eager to run and not confident enough in his passing. And Grossi reports that one source who witnessed another practice says Manziel was actually even worse in a session that the media didn’t see.

The bottom line is that 13 months after he was drafted, Manziel still hasn’t done anything to make the Browns think he’s ever going to be their franchise quarterback. McCown is the starter for now, and someone else will probably need to be found to be the long-term answer in the future.

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Brady appeal hearing set for June 23

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The deadline for setting Tom Brady’s appeal hearing came and went on Wednesday without a date being set. A date has now been set.

PFT has confirmed that the appeal hearing will commence on June 23, and that it will continue if necessary on June 25. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the NFL and NFL Players Association had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline, and that the NFL had offered a pair of dates that weren’t ideal for the union. The NFLPA had responded with a pair of weeks that worked, and the NFLPA was waiting for the league to respond.

Brady and the NFLPA wanted the hearing to be conducted in June, in order to ensure that sufficient time will be available to go to court and challenge the outcome of the internal appeal process.

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Browns unveil four-tiered variable pricing

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With the blackout policy suspended for 2015 (i.e., dead as a doorknob . . . or is it doornail? I never know), teams need to find a way to attract customer to pay for tickets to game. The Browns are doing that by utilizing a four-tiered system of variable pricing.

The first tier consists of the Broncos and Titans. Yes, the Titans, because that’s the regular-season home opener.

Tier Two has the Ravens and Steelers. Tier Three consists of the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals.

Tier Four has the two preseason games, against Washington and Buffalo.

The decision not to put the Ravens and Steelers in the top tier and the decision to put the Bengals in a tier lower than the other division rivals seem odd. But even in a league where coaches look for any ammunition to motivate players, it’s hard to envision Bengals coach Marvin Lewis firing up the troops by pointing out that the Browns saw fit to put the team that has made it to the playoffs four straight years in the third of four pricing tiers, only one click above games that don’t count at all.

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