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Calais Campbell: Cardinals are best team in NFC

Arizona Cardinals vs Houston Texans Getty Images

Over the last eight weeks, no one has played as well as the Arizona Cardinals.

Arizona is 7-1 with blowout wins over the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams at home and a surprising upset victory against the Seahawks last weekend in Seattle. Despite a 10-5 record and a chance to get to 11-5 with a win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Cardinals will need more than just the victory over the 49ers to reach the postseason.

But as far as who is playing the best football right now in the NFC, Cardinals’ defensive end Calais Campbell believes Arizona is at the top of the charts.

“In my opinion, I think we are the best team in the NFC. I hope we get into the playoffs and we can show it,” Campbell said on NFL AM on the NFL Network.

Arizona needs a victory over the 49ers and loss from the New Orleans Saints against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to find themselves playing beyond this weekend. The Saints host Tampa Bay this weekend and New Orleans is 7-0 at home on the year. It leaves a very real possibility that the Cardinals will be watching the playoffs instead of participating.

“Going 11-5 and not making it into the playoffs, nobody really knows,” Campbell said. “The only teams talked about are the playoff teams. We really hope we get a chance to get in. I know if we do we’ll do some damage.”

Arizona’s run defense is the best in the league. Campbell and Darnell Dockett specifically were responsible for causing serious problems for Seattle last week in creating space of Marshawn Lynch. Despite their offense turning the ball over four times on four interceptions from Carson Palmer, the defense held a struggling Seattle offense to just 10 points and only two drives longer than four plays.

The Cardinals are shaping up much like the Seahawks from a season ago. If they make the postseason, they’re going to be the team nobody wants to play in the NFC.

“It’s going to hurt,” Campbell said. “If that was to happen, it would hurt but I can hang my hat on 11-5. If we go 11-5, we did our part and it just wasn’t in the cards for us. But if we do get in, they better watch out.”

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Report: Eagles close to massive deal with Fletcher Cox

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: Fletcher Cox #91 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on during the closing moments of a game against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field on December 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Redskins defeated the Eagles 38-24. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Eagles have moved quickly to sign up their young players for the foreseeable future, and they may be nearing the biggest one yet this offseason.

According to Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com, the Eagles are negotiating a massive deal with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox which could feature more than $50 million in guarantees.

The report says the deal is “close,” and given the pace at which they’ve been passing out money to Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Vinny Curry, it’s reasonable that they’re trying to get as much done as quickly as they can. Cox had a year left on his rookie deal, after they picked up his option for 2016.

Cox had 9.5 sacks as a 3-4 defensive end last year, and will slide inside as they convert to a 4-3 defense next season, but he’s versatile enough to play a number of roles.

Of course, until one of those roles is quarterback, the Eagles still have a pretty big item on their offseason to-do list.

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Brady: I wish I could make it look as easy as other quarterbacks do

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots in action against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tom Brady was part of a pregame ceremony honoring past Super Bowl MVPs before the Broncos beat the Panthers in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 and he’s one of two players who has taken home the award three times in his career.

On top of those postseason exploits, Brady ranks among the all-time leaders in passing yards, touchdowns and most of the other metrics that are widely seen as positive attributes for an NFL quarterback. That didn’t stop the crowd at Levi’s Stadium from booing him, although that seemed to have more to do with the fact that there were a lot of Broncos fans on hand than a judgement that Brady didn’t belong at the ceremony.

Brady might have been OK with that judgement, though. In a interview with Jim Gray of Westwood One before the game, Brady said he “wouldn’t put myself in there” with the best quarterbacks of all time because he thinks he has to work harder than some of the others usually included in that group.

“I have to work my butt off all week and work really hard to get to the game feeling confident with what I am trying to accomplish and get down the field to score some points,” Brady said, via ESPN.com. “I guess for me because I have to work so hard at it and try so hard at it, that’s part of enjoying it for me. But I look at other players and say, ‘Gosh, I wish I could make it look as easy as they make it look.'”

Brady plays the humble card well — the “gosh” is a particularly nice touch — but there are plenty of times that the game looks easy for him and there’s plenty of hard work behind the success of every other great quarterback in the history of the league. The balance of talent to work may vary from quarterback to quarterback, but the results don’t leave much doubt about Brady’s spot among the league’s most accomplished quarterbacks.

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Nearly 1,000 fans greeted Panthers at stadium upon return

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 07: Fans of the Carolina Panthers cheer on their team against the Denver Broncos while watching Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016 at Rooftop 210 in the EpiCentre area of uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) Getty Images

After a crushing Super Bowl 50 loss as favorites, the Panthers had to endure a long flight home.

But at least when they got there, they found they were still local favorites.

Via Anna Douglas of the Charlotte Observer, nearly 1,000 fans were at Bank of America Stadium last night as buses rolled in, following the team’s arrival at the airport around 6:30 p.m. ET.

Airport firetrucks greeted the team with spraying from water cannons — which ain’t exactly champagne in the locker room — and a number of fans were also at the airport, pressed against fences to catch a glimpse of the team which lost only two games all year.

“We’ve said all along we have the best fans in the NFL and seeing this turnout tonight only reinforces that,” team president Danny Morrison said.

Players will be at the stadium today for their end of seasons meetings, and it’ll be interesting to see if we hear more from quarterback Cam Newton, who had little to say in the wake of the loss.

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Von Miller says contract talks will be “a peaceful thing”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 08:  Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos addresses the media during the trophy presentation at the Moscone Center West on February 8, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller waged war on the Panthers, and won.

But the Super Bowl 50 MVP promised in the aftermath that his future contract talks with the team would be “peaceful.”

Miller’s set to be an unrestricted free agent in March, but he’s not expecting a rough negotiation with Broncos executive vice president John Elway.

“As far as my situation coming up, we have — Mr. Elway, he’s played in the National Football League, he’s one of the best GMs that there is, we’re here today because of him,” Miller said, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. “And I have people representing my situation as well. It’s going to be a peaceful thing. I’m not really worried about it.”

Of course, there’s a good reason not to worry.

He’s either going to get rich immediately, or the Broncos will use the franchise tag to buy themselves time to do a long-term deal, as they have with other stars in recent years. That’s what happened with both left tackle Ryan Clady and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, so it’s clearly a plan Elway’s familiar with.

They have other free agents pending, and some have suggested the possibility of tagging quarterback Brock Osweiler. But Miller’s clearly the priority, and Elway has said he has a “plan” for Miller, and that he knows “what the numbers would be.”

Six years and $101 million is a good starting point, considering the deal Justin Houston got with the Chiefs last summer. And that will buy a man a lot of peace.

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Report: Arrest warrants “imminent” in LeSean McCoy incident

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Bills running back LeSean McCoy hasn’t been arrested yet in the wake of a reported altercation that sent a pair of off-duty police officers to the hospital. That could change, soon.

Mark Schwarz of ESPN reported near the top of the 5:00 a.m. ET SportsCenter (so much for me getting up at 5:55 a.m. ET for a 6:00 a.m. ET radio show) that arrest warrants are “imminent” in the case. Citing an unnamed official in the Philadelphia police department, Schwarz says McCoy was “definitely involved,” and that arrest warrants could surface in the next 24-48 hours.

The delay results from the high-profile nature of the case, and the involvement of police officers. Both have broken ribs, and one has an orbital fracture. Although they weren’t on duty and didn’t identify themselves as police officers, the system tends to operate a little more zealously when police officers are the victims of criminal conduct.

So McCoy and the Bills could soon be facing a major distraction in a season that reportedly includes a playoffs-or-bust mandate for coach Rex Ryan and G.M. Doug Whaley.

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Possibility of paid leave looms for LeSean McCoy, Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel AP

A prolonged stretch of good behavior by nearly every NFL player and employee has caused the new realities of the post-Ray Rice NFL to fade a bit from memory. Those new realities could be returning to focus soon.

The revised Personal Conduct Policy, promulgated by the league without the consent of the NFL Players Association in December 2014 (the NFL believed the union’s consent wasn’t needed), allows for the unilateral placement of players on paid leave pending the outcome of league investigations and/or criminal prosecutions regarding allegations of violence.

Crafted in direct response to the problem of domestic violence, the revised conduct policy gives the league wide latitude and discretion to determine who does or doesn’t get placed on paid leave. Based on information emerging on Monday, paid leave becomes at least a possibility for Bills running back LeSean McCoy and Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

As to McCoy, he and former NFL running back Curtis Brinkley allegedly sent a couple of off-duty cops to the hospital as the result of a fight over a bottle of champagne. As to Manziel, he allegedly hit his ex-girlfriend so hard in the ear that she couldn’t hear in one ear for several days.

Whatever happens with both guys, the Browns could be sweating this one out for exactly one month, until they acquire the cap space to cut him. If the league puts him on paid leave before March 9, they possibly won’t be able to cut him until the investigation and any eventual prosecution ends, potentially requiring the Browns to pay his $1.169 million salary for 2016.

Presumably, the Browns could act sooner by creating roughly $2 million in cap space immediately, through the cutting of veteran players and/or renegotiation of existing contract during the final weeks of the 2015 league year. The Browns otherwise can’t dump Manziel’s contract because all remaining cap space for 2015 already has been carried to 2016.

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Report: Players convicted of weapons or domestic offenses barred from combine, draft

Troy Vincent, Rick Smith AP

An NFL policy change will bar players with convictions for domestic violence, sexual assault or weapons offenses from attending the league’s the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

USA Today reported Monday night that teams were informed of this policy change in a memo from NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent in late January. In the memo, Vincent wrote that players would be barred from “any league-related event” if a background check turns up a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Those players would also be prevented from attending the draft.

Players that refuse to submit to a background check will also be uninvited.

The new rule would have applied last year to Frank Clark, who ended up being a second-round pick of the Seahawks. Clark pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after an arrest for a domestic violence incident that led to his dismissal from the Michigan football team.

“It is important for us to remain strongly committed to league values as we demonstrate to our fans, future players, coaches, general managers, and others who support our game that character matters,” Vincent wrote.

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Chargers hire consultant for ballot initiative

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The effort of the Chargers to get a new home has sparked plenty of contradictions. The team deemed Inglewood to be an unacceptable destination for an L.A. stadium until the owners picked it over Carson, and then the Chargers struck a tentative deal to play in the place they previously claimed to be unfit.

Now, as the Chargers embark on a last-ditch effort to remain in San Diego, they’re embracing a timeline the team decried as impractical a year ago.

To build a new stadium in the city the franchise has called home since 1961, a successful ballot effort and a successful environmental review process are critical. As to the former, the Chargers have hired a consultant to launch a citizens initiative intended to secure hundreds of millions in taxpayer money.

Fred Maas, whom the Chargers wanted the city to hire a year ago to spearhead the effort, has been hired by the Chargers, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“The really encouraging thing is I believe to my very core Dean is committed to finding a solution in San Diego,” Maas told Acee.

Acee reports that the team plans to spend roughly $10 million in connection with the election, a process that commences with a citizens initiative.

“[Maas] has been around San Diego a long time,” Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a video post on the team’s website Monday, via Acee. “He’s very familiar with all the political aspects of what goes on in the city, how all that works. His knowledge of San Diego as whole will help us.”

Securing public money is only part of the process. Environmental approvals — and specifically beating back any litigation — also are critical to the effort.

Regardless of whether it all gets done, last year the Chargers were pooh-poohing the prospect of getting it all done in a year. This year, they’re singing a much different tune.

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Aqib Talib deliberately grabbed Corey Brown’s facemask

Zz03NzBjOWE2ODlkYjk4N2Y5NmJkNDk3YjYxNTc3MTBjOA== AP

Several years ago, the NFL got rid of the distinction between major and minor facemask fouls, with all penalties for grabbing and pulling the bars on the front of the helmet becoming 15-yard personal fouls.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s accidental or intentional; the penalty is the same. When it comes to determining discipline, however, evidence that the foul was flagrant and intentional should influence the league office.

Regarding Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib’s decision to grab and pull and twist the facemask of Panthers receiver Corey Brown in the first half of Super Bowl 50, it’s clear that the conduct was flagrant and intentional — because Talib has admitted it.

“It was B.S. flags,” Talib said regarding a pair of personal fouls called on him in the first half, via NESN.com.  “One was on our sidelines [for taunting] — the guy [Brown] was talking on our sideline. One I just did on purpose, and I just had to show him. It’s probably going to be a fine. But, hey, we’re world champs.”

Talib added that he was aware, given Carolina’s field position at the time, that the penalty wouldn’t result in a major loss of field position.

“My teammates knew what it was,” Talib said. “He was on the three-yard line. [With] a personal foul, he was on the one-and-a-half-yard line, so it is what it is.”

What it usually is will be a fine of $8,681 for a first offense. But Talib’s candor, coupled with a one-game suspension during the season for poking Colts tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye, could result in an enhanced penalty, and possibly a suspension.

At a time when the NFL is more sensitive than ever to player safety, Talib has admitted to a deliberate and calculated violation of a rule directly aimed at avoiding potentially serious neck injuries. Under the circumstances, and in light of Talib’s history, he may end up with something stiffer than the NFL’s equivalent of a parking ticket.

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DeMarcus Ware explains why Cam Newton didn’t run more

Zz04NGVhMTc1ZWM2MTg0NWEwNGRhMjk1MTBlMGIxNDM1NA== AP

By standards applicable to other quarterbacks, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton didn’t have a horrible night in Super Bowl 50. By Newton’s standards, he did.

The goal, as Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware explained on Monday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, was to make the Panthers one dimensional by taking away their ability to run the ball. But that doesn’t account for the lack of scrambles from Newton, who was sacked six times and repeatedly fought to throw the ball away.

“He had to get the ball down the field,” Ware said of Newton’s decision to take off sparingly, “he had to score points.”

Ware added the Broncos defense was able to get inside Newton’s head. Physically, they also were able to match him.

“It’s hard to beat us with his feet because we have a lot of fast guys like me and Von [Miller] and [Derek] Wolfe and Malik [Jackson],” Ware said. “And we made sure we kept the pocket tight so he couldn’t get out and run.”

Speaking of Jackson, Ware emphasized the importance of not letting him get away in free agency.

“The game is won in the trenches,” Ware said. “And just him, Derek Wolfe, . . . [those] two guys if you’re doing 3-4 or 4-3 they’re dominant and they make plays especially with [nose tackle] Sylvester [Williams] in the middle. I mean, all of those guys just giving them kudos. That’s the reason why we’ve been able to do so much.”

The salary cap will prevent the Broncos from doing as much as they’d like when it comes to keeping free agency, and Jackson could be one of the ones who gets away — especially as other teams become willing to pay a premium in order to both bring a Super Bowl champion to town and to partially dismantle the most recent champion.

To hear the full spot from Ware, check out the podcast from Monday’s edition of PFT Live, the first one that launched at 6:00 a.m. ET.

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111.9 million Super Bowl viewers

Zz03MWExMGJiNjg3MjQyYTFhNjA2MGYxMDZhYTA0MTgzNw== AP

Last year, a record 114.4 million viewers on average enjoyed Super Bowl XLIX, between the Patriots and Seahawks. This year, the numbers were down because the game was less compelling, but the audience was still gigantic.

According to CBS, an average of 111.9 million watched the game, with a peak of 115.5 million between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. ET.

As big as the Super Bowl audience has become, the question that comes up every year for me is this: What is everyone else in the country doing at that time?

FOX has the game next year in Houston, and after that NBC in Minnesota. The size of the audiences will be driven largely by the size of the markets represented in the game and the perceived (and actual) competitiveness of the game.

While Sunday night’s game wasn’t a shootout, tension permeated most of the game, with a nagging sense that the Panthers eventually were going to find the gas pedal and win the game easily.

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Tom Coughlin: Not coaching “a very difficult thing”

Tom Coughlin AP

For the first time since 2004, Tom Coughlin isn’t going to be preparing a team for September.

Coughlin was replaced as the Giants’ head coach by Ben McAdoo after a second straight 6-10 season and brief dalliances with the 49ers and Eagles didn’t lead anywhere. During a Monday appearance on FOX News, Coughlin talked about how he’s dealing with the change in circumstances.

“It’s a very difficult thing, I don’t care who you are, or how long you’ve been doing it. I’ve been doing it a long time, so you get yourself into the rhythm,” Coughlin said, via NJ.com. “Your whole life, the calendar of your life is based on football, about the seasons, whether it’s in-season or out of season. You have a schedule that you follow. So there’s some adjusting for me to make.”

One adjustment Coughlin isn’t making is considering the change in schedule a permanent one. He said he doesn’t like the retired and that he’s “way to young” for that label.

When they parted ways, the Giants talked about wanting Coughlin remain with the team he coached to two Super Bowl titles in a different position. Co-owner John Mara repeated that desire during Super Bowl week in San Francisco, but it doesn’t appear that anything immediate is in the works.

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Aqib Talib calls Levi’s Stadium turf “terrible”

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The 49ers have had repeated issues with the quality of the sod at Levi’s Field. On Sunday, the NFL’s first stint as the caretaker of the gridiron at Santa Clara encountered difficulties, too.

The footing on the field was terrible,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said, via the Associated Press. “San Fran has to play eight games on that field so they better do something to get it fixed. It was terrible.”

Talib apparently hasn’t been paying attention to the home team’s troubles with the turf. Because the troubles have been persistent for the team. The league has had troubles, too. And now the 49ers get the turf back, indefinitely.

Not everyone complained about the field, including the guy who won the game’s MVP award.

“I had to change my cleats,” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “It was a great field. We came out here [Saturday] and it was fast. As the game went on, I just needed a little more support. I was able to get the detachable [spikes] and real quick change them.”

Players from both teams seemed to slip on the field. Panthers coach Ron Rivera, however, went out of his way to say the field wasn’t a problem.

“We didn’t have any issues with the field,” Rivera said, via the Associated Press. “Both teams played on the same field. As far as I’m concerned, for me to be able to blame the field is kind of a cop out. The truth of the matter is we both played on the surface. The surface was outstanding.”

Outstanding is an overstatement, but Rivera surely wants to say nothing that would create the impression he is making excuses for the outcome of the game. His refusal to make excuses provides the league with an excuse it doesn’t merit, because the field wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been, raising yet again the question of why the NFL fails far too often to ensure that players get the absolute best and safest surfaces.

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Saints cut Jahri Evans

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints released six-time Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans Monday.

Evans was due $3 million if he was still on the roster on Wednesday. He was set to make $4.9 million in 2016.

Evans, 32, has been with the Saints since 2006 and started all 153 games he played. He took a pay cut after the 2014 season, his sixth straight Pro Bowl season. He started 11 games in 2015.

Evans joins Riley Cooper and William Moore as notable cuts on the first day teams can make roster transactions. The Saints also cut wide receiver Seantavius Jones, linebacker David Hawthorne and linebacker Ramon Humber.

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Disturbing details in Manziel-Crowley affidavit

Johnny Manziel AP

The affidavit filed by Johnny Manziel’s ex-girlfriend as part of the protective order she’s received from him contains some disturbing details.

NBC 5 in Dallas posted the affidavit Monday. In it, Coleen Crowley said she told a parking valet she feared for her life and later had to threaten Manziel with a knife to get him to leave her apartment.

A police helicopter began searching for Manziel early on the morning of Jan. 30 after Crowley banged on a neighbor’s door and screamed to another for help. Crowley said Manziel had been physical with her, grabbing by the hair to throw her in the car and hitting her in the ear with an open hand. Crowley said that’s when she struck Manziel back and also said she still could not hear out of her ear days later.

Crowley said she was also restrained by Manziel against a hotel door and that Manziel threatened to kill them both.

Dallas Police opened a criminal investigation into the matter last week, and an NFL investigation is ongoing. The Browns have not been able to reach Manziel and plan to release him next month.

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