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NFL morning after: A great time for great quarterbacks

kaepernick AP

The NFL is, more than ever before, a quarterback league. And we’ve got some great ones playing in these playoffs.

If the wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s that the NFL in 2014 is dominated by quarterbacks. When quarterbacks are playing great football, like Andrew Luck and Alex Smith played in Indianapolis on Saturday, the results are spectacular. When quarterbacks are playing badly, like Andy Dalton played in Cincinnati on Sunday, the result is a team with no chance to win, even when its defense plays well.

The good news for fans who like offense is that next weekend’s four games have what may be the best quarterback matchups in NFL history. Just think about how good the quarterbacks are in the four divisional round games:

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning: Manning will win the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his career for his record-breaking 2013 season, and he’s the best passer in football. But after Manning, the next-best passer in the NFL over the course of the 2013 season was Rivers. Rivers completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, had 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and took a team that looked before the season like one of the worst in the NFL to the playoffs. This will be a great matchup of great passers.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady: Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he got the first postseason win of his career on Saturday, and now he’ll travel to New England and face Brady, who has 17 career postseason wins. If the Colts can pull the upset, this could be a changing of the guard: The quarterback who has three Super Bowl rings giving way to a much younger quarterback who’s probably going to win multiple Super Bowl rings before his career is over.

Drew Brees vs. Russell Wilson: Brees topped 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career this season; no one else has reached 5,000 yards more than once. Wilson, who grew up idolizing Brees, may be the most exciting player to enter the NFL in recent years: He scrambles like Fran Tarkenton and has a gun like John Elway.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Cam Newton: This is the one that has me the most excited because it’s the one that has the greatest potential to show us what the future of football will be. Running quarterbacks are here to stay, and in Kaepernick and Newton we have the two best running quarterbacks in football facing off. Kaepernick has two of the three best rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, with his 181-yard game against Green Bay last year and his 98-yard game against Green Bay on Sunday. Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing in the regular season, with 585 yards, and he’s the all-time quarterback record holder for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback matchups don’t get any better than that, and that’s what I’m most excited about heading into the divisional weekend. Here are my observations from wild card weekend:

There were no 100-yard rushers. The flip side of the NFL being a league of great quarterbacks is that the running game has been de-emphasized. There wasn’t a single 100-yard runner in the NFL this weekend. In fact, it was a quarterback, Kaepernick, who led all runners in the wild card round with his 98-yard game against the Packers. Running backs just aren’t the NFL’s marquee players anymore.

Smith had a game like no other. Until Saturday, no player in NFL history had ever passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and added 50 yards on the ground in any game, regular season or postseason. But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith became the first player to do it on Saturday when he passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and added 57 rushing yards. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses: When a quarterback plays the way Smith played on Saturday and leads his team to 44 points, he shouldn’t be judged harshly just because his team’s defense gave up 45 points. But the reality is that quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, and so a lot of people will choose to remember that Smith overthrew an open Cyrus Gray on what could have been a touchdown pass, that Smith lost a fumble and that Smith’s intentional grounding penalty took the Chiefs out of field goal range late in the game. Me, I’ll remember that Smith turned in the game of his life.

Hilton stepped up in a big way. T.Y. Hilton, who became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by default after Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury, had the best game of his career and one of the best games anyone has ever had in the playoffs on Saturday. Hilton’s 13 catches were tied for the second most in NFL postseason history, and his 224 receiving yards were tied for the third most in NFL postseason history. The Colts were very wise to take Hilton in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, the same draft in which they selected Andrew Luck. Those two are going to be a great combination for many years to come.

Two big changes for the Saints panned out. After the Saints’ Week 15 loss to the Rams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided he had seen enough of struggling kicker Garrett Hartley and left tackle Charles Brown. And so the Saints cut Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to take his place, and benched Brown and promoted rookie left tackle Terron Armstead to the starting lineup. Both moves looked very good in Saturday’s playoff win over the Eagles. Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, while Armstead held his own against the Eagles’ pass rush and helped keep Drew Brees upright. Give Payton credit for recognizing two spots on his team that needed to get better, and making the necessary changes.

McCoy couldn’t get loose. During the regular season, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaged 5.1 yards a run and 10.4 yards a catch, and had 17 different plays of 20 yards or more. Against the Saints on Saturday, McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards a run and 3.8 yards a catch, and his longest play of the day was 11 yards. The ability of Rob Ryan’s New Orleans defense to keep McCoy in check was a huge part of the Eagles’ season ending on Saturday.

Lewis can build a defense, but he can’t build a quarterback. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a well-earned reputation as a great defensive mind, and his defense was strong on Sunday, holding a good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Unfortunately, Lewis has Andy Dalton as his quarterback, and Dalton was beyond terrible on Sunday, with three turnovers that pretty much handed the game to the Chargers. Lewis may need to sign or draft another quarterback this offseason because Dalton simply isn’t up to the task.

Keenan Allen plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Allen, the rookie receiver who led the Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, only had two catches for 21 yards on Sunday. So why am I singling Allen out for praise? Because I love the way this young man plays the game, even when he’s not getting the ball. Allen’s brutal but legal block to spring teammate Eddie Royal on a nine-yard run was my single favorite play of the weekend.

TV is better than being there. Three of the four teams that hosted games over the weekend had trouble selling out their stadiums, and no one should be surprised by that. The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks. I don’t blame the fans in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Green Bay who were slow to sell out their stadiums last week, and if anything surprises me, it’s that Philadelphia fans sold out their stadium within minutes of the Eagles putting playoff tickets for sale. If I lived in Philadelphia, I would have much rather been at home on Saturday afternoon, watching that great Chiefs-Colts second half, than in my car fighting traffic on my way to the game. And I would have rather been at home to watch my team lose to the Saints than sit in the cold on Saturday night. The best place to watch football is at home.

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Devin Smith feeling better, still unsure when he can return

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Devin Smith #19 of the New York Jets drops the ball in the end zone while being covered by Kevin Johnson #30 of the Houston Texans in the third quarter on November 22, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Texans won 24 to 17. (Photo by Thomas Shea/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets wide receiver Devin Smith knows he’d have to beat the clock and the odds in his rehab from a major knee injury to avoid PUP and be available for the start of the 2016 season.

So, Smith isn’t putting a date on anything but he is optimistic about his rehab and his chances of helping the Jets this season.

“I feel great with everything I’m doing,” Smith told PFT Friday, after his hometown youth football camp. “I’m starting to run a lot more, doing a lot more cutting and really trying to push. I have a much better idea of what I can do and can’t do right now with my running and my rehab, and that’s a good sign.”

A training camp injury cost Smith, a second-round pick in 2015, valuable time last summer, then he tore his ACL in December. He worked with trainers while his teammates were on the field through the spring, and Jets coach Todd Bowles has said he’s unsure when Smith will be back.

Smith’s answer? As soon as possible.

“Physically, I feel great,” he said. “My weight is up. I feel healthy. The trainers have pushed me in the right direction. The trainers at the Jets have been great. I feel totally comfortable that they’ll have me back when the right time comes. They watch me closely and we have great communication.

“It’s one day at a time. I really do feel better most days than I did the day before, the week before. They haven’t told me much about a timetable because the focus is just on me getting better. I know when camp starts, [how much time] we have, and I’m just glad I’m making the progress I’m making now. Hopefully we keep going in the right direction.”

Smith was college football’s best deep threat in 2014 — and for much of his four-year Ohio State career actually — but he struggled as a rookie with the Jets.

He ended up with nine catches and one touchdown in 10 games. Smith had his battles with drops and with catching on, and he never really seemed comfortable after suffering a punctured lung and broken ribs while making a catch in an early training camp practice last summer.

“Just a freak injury,” he said. “And it set me back from the mental side. I never missed a camp ever. I felt like I was doing great and then I missed a bunch of time. Not only was I in pain and in the hospital, I was just behind. It’s not making an excuse. I had a lot to catch up on, a lot to learn. So this year I’m taking care of the knee and I’m going to be much better knowing how to split my time with the playbook, with my rest, when to be in the trainer’s room and when to put in that extra time in the meeting room.

“For me, I knew I needed to bulk up, put some more mass on my body. And I just had to adjust to the pro game. It’s not just the playbook. One of the biggest things about going from the college game to the pros is taking care of your body. It’s knowing your body, putting the right things in your body, getting your rest but still staying in that playbook.

“It’s the NFL, man. Every year, every guy has a lot to prove. I have a lot to prove. I have to use all these experiences and end up being better.”

Smith will almost certainly begin training camp on PUP. If he starts the regular season on PUP, he’ll miss at least the first six games before he can be activated.

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Broncos’ Shiloh Keo pleads guilty to misdemeanor DUI

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Shiloh Keo #33 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10.   (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos safety Shiloh Keo was arrested for driving under the influence the week after his team won the Super Bowl. Now he has pleaded guilty.

Keo pleaded guilty today to a misdemeanor DUI charge, TMZ reports.

He was sentenced to one year of probation, a suspended license, a $952.50 fine and community service in the form of speaking at eight high schools. If he does all that, the conviction will be expunged from his record.

Keo could now be subject to NFL discipline.

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Ex-Cowboy C.J. Spillman gets five years in prison for sexual assault

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Former Cowboys cornerback C.J. Spillman was sentenced to five years in prison today after a jury found him guilty of sexual assault.

A judge in Fort Worth, Texas, ordered Spillman to be taken into custody immediately after he was sentenced.

A woman accused Spillman of sexually assaulting her in a team hotel used by the Cowboys in Grapevine, Texas, on September 20, 2014. Spillman wasn’t actually charged until June 30, 2015, and played the rest of the 2014 season for the Cowboys.

According to the New York Daily News, Spillman was also accused of attempted rape in December of 2013, when he played for the 49ers. He was not charged in that incident. According to the Star-Telegram, Spillman’s ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of his three children, got a restraining order against him after he pulled a gun on her.

Spillman played six seasons in the NFL, from 2009 to 2014, with the Chargers, 49ers and Cowboys.

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Seven years with NBC, and counting

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On July 1, 2009, the flip was switched on the partnership between NBC and PFT. It wasn’t a purchase; it was a partnership. Seven years to the day later, the partnership remains as strong as ever.

It’s been a great arrangement for PFT, even if my initial reaction when NBC exec Rick Cordella approached me about the possibility was to resist it. I enjoyed PFT’s independence, and I didn’t want to lose that. While the process of becoming mainstream necessarily entails a certain softening of (some) rough edges, PFT has for the most part continued to cover the league in a frank, candid, informative, and hopefully entertaining way.

Our main goal continues to be enhancing the experience of being an NFL fan, giving people accurate information, thought-provoking analysis, and ongoing ideas for improving the game, the league, and everything associated with it.

Some interpret PFT’s periodic criticism of the NFL as a dislike of the NFL. I love the NFL, and I have for more than 40 years. But that doesn’t mean the current stewards of the game get a blank check to do whatever they want without scrutiny. The much-discussed “integrity of the game” hinges more on ensuring true competitive balance among the 32 franchises and less on P.R.-driven investigations and punishments that ignore the broader culture of the sport. Otherwise, teams improperly have their otherwise fair chance at contending taken away from them.

Our content ranges from big-picture issues to relative mundane transactions, and everything in between. It’s a constantly-updated, comprehensive companion for the zealous football fan who cares deeply about the sport and, typically, one specific team in the league (along with a smattering of players on a given fantasy team). We’re going to keep doing it this way indefinitely, and definitely for at least seven more years with NBC.

If you have any ideas or suggestions as to how we can improve or expand what we do, feel free to mention them in the comments. And feel free to keep coming back on a regular basis, because when it comes to all of our content, “free” has been the operative word from November 1, 2001 through July 1, 2009 through today — and hopefully for many years to come.

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Special legislative session could determine fate of Las Vegas stadium

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Now that Las Vegas has the attention of the NFL and the Raiders, the question becomes whether Las Vegas will do enough to turn flirtation into something much more than that.

That question could largely be determined by a special session of the Nevada legislature, which could happen later this summer.

As one source with knowledge of the dynamics in Nevada recently explained it to PFT, Governor Brian Sandoval (who has the authority to call a special session) and other politicians are strongly opposed to the proposed $750 million contribution, wanting that number to be $200 million or more lower than that.

Ultimately, the question becomes how badly Nevada wants an NFL team, and whether it can still lure a team like the Raiders (or the Chargers) with $550 million instead of $750 million in public contributions.

With the Chargers now looking less likely to get a stadium built in San Diego, Nevada has an opportunity to pit the Raiders and Chargers against each other, perhaps luring the Chargers for $550 million in lieu of getting the Raiders for $750 million — or possibly squeezing the Raiders down to $550 million.

The NFL, which usually is the one squeezing multiple potential partners in order to get the best possible deal for the league, won’t be thrilled with being on the inside of the vise. But with little or no public money available in most American cities, Las Vegas should be able to get one team or the other for a lot less than $750 million.

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Bears end up claiming Shaw after Saints share their intentions

DeAngelo Tyson, Connor Shaw AP

The Chicago Bears have claimed quarterback Connor Shaw via waivers.

It was just a simple Friday transaction — except that the Saints put in a claim on Shaw, too, and apparently thought they had added him. Per Peter Schrager of FOX Sports, the Saints jumped the gun on thinking they’d claimed Shaw and let that info leak.

The Bears, who were a spot ahead of the Saints in the waiver order, got Shaw. In what Schrager called “a clerical error,” the Saints had sent an email about claiming Shaw to the entire league instead of just the NFL personnel department.

As proof that someone told something prematurely, ESPN’s Field Yates reported that the Saints had waived tight end Jack Tabb to make room on the roster for Shaw. He later clarified that the Bears actually claimed Shaw.

Well, now Tabb knows he’s the 90th man on the Saints’ offseason roster.

Shaw was waived by the Browns on Thursday. The Browns went through the spring with five quarterbacks, and the new administration chose to move on from the former undrafted free agent brought in by the previous regime.

Shaw played in one game during his time with the Browns, the 2014 season finale. He performed well given the circumstances; he’d spent the first 16 weeks of his rookie season on the practice squad as the Brian HoyerJohnny Manziel saga drug on. Now Shaw is reunited with Hoyer in the Bears’ quarterbacks room.

A preseason thumb injury forced Shaw to spend all of last season on injured-reserve.

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Six players declared eligible for supplemental draft

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 13: The NFL shield is painted in gold and black after a game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets  at MetLife Stadium on September 13, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The new color scheme is to commemorate this years' Super Bowl witch will be the 50th edition. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s July 1, which means that supplemental draft fever is rising across this great land of ours.

The big day for players who have had a change of circumstance in their collegiate careers since the early-entry deadline for the NFL draft is July 14 and six players are eligible to be selected. That group includes Purdue defensive lineman Ra’Zahn Howard, whose presence in the draft pool was reported last month.

Per NFL Media, Ole Miss cornerback Tee Shepard is also eligible after leaving the team last season. Shepard has a hearing loss and took issue with the way the school’s coaching staff pointed to that publicly as the reason for struggles on the field without talking to him first.

Virginia Tech long snapper Eddie D’Antuono, Sam Houston State running back Jalen Overstreet, University of Calgary wide receiver Rashaun Simonise and Concordia defensive end Cameron Walton are the others eligible for the supplemental draft. If a team should pick any of the six, they’ll forfeit their pick in the same round during the 2017 draft.

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Ravens tight end Darren Waller suspended four games

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 03:  Ricardo Allen #37 of the Atlanta Falcons tackles Darren Waller #12 of the Baltimore Ravens at Georgia Dome on September 3, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL had shifted the Friday-afternoon-before-three-day-July-4th-weekend bad news dump to Thursday. But apparently there was more bad news than one afternoon could hold.

The league has announced that Ravens tight end/receiver Darren Waller has been suspended the first four games of the season for violating the substance-abuse policy.

Waller had two catches for 18 yards last season, in six games.

The bigger question is whether Waller is the first suspension to be announced on Friday afternoon, or the last.

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Goodell pay not significantly impacted by #Deflategate, either

GettyImages-462643470.0 Getty Images

The immediate reaction to the news that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s compensation for 2015 dipped by seven percent to $31.74 million was obvious: Goodell took a hit, but not a huge one, in the first full year after the Ray Rice mess of September 2014.

But 2015 also was the year of #Deflategate, and Goodell’s pay shows that one of the three men who determine what Goodell gets — Patriots owner Robert Kraft — wasn’t all that miffed at Goodell over a scandal that made Kraft as made at the league office as he ever has been.

Meanwhile, and as reported by Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash saw his total pay for 2015 drop 13 percent, to $6.5 million. It’s widely believed that Kraft and the Patriots emerged from #Deflategate with very strong feelings regarding Pash’s role in the investigation and ultimate conclusions.

Plenty of people would gladly take far less money to have their bosses far more upset with them. Moving forward, no one will know how much Goodell or Pash or anyone else at 345 Park Avenue is making, regardless of how happy or otherwise the folks who determine how much they make may be.

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Bears will be jockeying for St. Louis fans, too

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The Chiefs already plan to horn in on St. Louis turf vacated by the Rams. The Bears will be trying to invade the city that lost its second NFL team since 1987, too.

Via Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, KTVI will televise Chicago Bears preseason games. Previously, KTVI carried Rams exhibitions games.

KMOV in St. Louis will show Chiefs games, giving folks in St. Louis twice the inventory of preseason games to enjoy. And one of those Kansas City games features a matchup against the Rams in Los Angeles.

Caesar also points out that folks in St. Louis will get extra regular-season games on local TV, due to the quirky rules that apply when a city’s team is playing at home.

None of it will matter if St. Louis eventually lures another team to town. After the Cardinals left in the 1980s, the Rams arrived in 1995.

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Tarvaris Jackson says he’s broke, requests a public defender

St Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Former Seahawks, Vikings and Bills quarterback Tarvaris Jackson made more than $12 million in his NFL career, but now he says he’s so broke that he can’t even afford a lawyer to defend him against charges that he threatened to kill his wife.

Jackson requested a public defender because he can’t afford an attorney, TMZ reports.

In court documents, Jackson says he has no income, savings or investments. His only asset is a car worth $100,000.

The judge overseeing Jackson’s case denied the request for the public defender, perhaps reasoning that after he made $1.5 million with the Seahawks last year and found a way to buy that car, Jackson can find a way to pay a lawyer, too.

The 33-year-old Jackson was a second-round draft pick of the Vikins in 2006 and has been in the NFL since. He is not currently under contract, and given the legal issues hanging over his head, his NFL career is probably over.

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NFL still looking into Aqib Talib shooting

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Aqib Talib #21 of the Denver Broncos speaks to the media during the Broncos media availability for Super Bowl 50 at the Stanford Marriott on February 4, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

A fuller police report from the night that Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was shot in the right leg has been made available, but it doesn’t offer much new insight into what led to Talib’s wound.

There were reports at the time that Talib told police that he didn’t know who shot him as well as reports that he accidentally shot himself, although the Dallas police said they were investigating it as an aggravated assault. The report, obtained by Ian Rapoport of NFL Media and Lindsay Jones of USA Today, confirms that Talib said he didn’t know who shot him and that an “unknown suspect” shot Talib.

The police report quotes a witness that was part of a group of people in a park and heard a single gunshot followed by seeing Talib lying on the ground. The report also says police found a gram of marijuana, but makes no mention of who it belonged to.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Jones that the NFL is continuing an investigation into what happened and the Dallas police consider it an open investigation as well.

Talib is expected to make a full recovery in time for the regular season.

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Mark Davis visiting Vegas regularly while stadium site selection continues

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 09:  Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is seen during warm ups before his team competes against the Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum on November 9, 2014 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

When last we heard from Raiders owner Mark Davis, he reiterated that he is serious about moving the team to Las Vegas if the city can put together a plan to build a new stadium.

Nothing has changed on that front in the last few weeks. Las Vegas Sands senior vice president Ron Reese said that Davis has been to the city “a half-dozen times” in the last couple of months and that his company is continuing to work on putting together that stadium plan.

“It’s a major investment,” Reese said, via USA Today. “The NFL has expressed a strong desire for a public-private partnership. Our organization is taking the lead, working with the Raiders to create public-private support for this.”

The question of the public end of that partnership remains unanswered. There have been proposals calling for contributions of $500 or $750 million raised from hotel room taxes. In the meantime, work is being done to settle on a site for the stadium in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported this week that four sites are under consideration by the Raiders, the Sands and Majestic Realty, which comprise the private half of the partnership.

“We’re much further along in looking at sites than people realize,” Las Vegas Sands exec Andy Abboud said. “We want to be somewhere along the resort corridor along the Las Vegas Strip. I think we can get that resolved by the end of July. We may go forward after July with two potential sites and determine the best one.”

Oakland is still pushing for a plan that could keep the Raiders from moving, although the prospect of the Raiders landing in Vegas may have become more likely this offseason.

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Nate Robinson using WR trainer who worked with Odell Beckham, DeSean Jackson

When longtime NBA point guard Nate Robinson tried out for the Seahawks, coach Pete Carroll said it would be “all but impossible” for him to make it to the NFL.

But Carroll also offered some advice on how Robinson might proceed if he wanted a shot — to concentrate on offense.

Robinson’s work with trainer Dwayne Frampton has focused on Robinson learning to play wide receiver. Robinson played cornerback at the University of Washington, but Frampton — who has worked with Odell Beckham Jr. and DeSean Jackson — thinks he has promise as a receiver.

“Nate originally went out to work out for Pete Carroll as a defensive back, but he saw how well Nate was catching the ball,” Frampton said, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. “So Pete said he could be used offensively.

“People have to understand Nate’s already played the game of football. So he’s not blind, he’s just a rookie. We worked on ball drills, getting his feet, polishing his route-running, keeping his shoulder-pad level down. Pretty much just getting him back in the groove of how football operates.”

Frampton said the 32-year-old, 5-foot-9 Robinson has shown ability as a slot receiver, and good strength for his size. But he insisted he didn’t think Robinson was in this just for attention, and that it could work.

“He’s really trying to make it back into football. And he has the willpower and athleticism to do so,” Frampton said. “If he were to get a fair opportunity and not just be known as Nate Robinson the slam-dunk champion, but be known as Nate Robinson, the athlete who’s really trying to make it back to the football world, then I think he’s fine. That’s probably the biggest hurdle, people not taking this as a gimmick.”

Considering how hard it is for 22-year-olds who have actually played wide receiver in college to make it to the NFL, it’s easy to understand why people might think it’s a gimmick. But Robinson appears to be taking his attempt seriously, and should be commending for not quitting.

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NFL dismisses Charles Sly’s recanting of PED allegations

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As the NFL and NFL Players Association continue to harden their diametrically-opposed positions regarding the investigation sparked by PED allegations made in an Al Jazeera documentary, more and more aspects of each side’s beliefs have become clear.

In the NFL’s most recent letter to the NFLPA, which was given to the media before it was given to the union, the league dismisses the notion that Charles Sly’s recanting of the allegations in any way disproves them.

“The fact that statements aired in the report may have been since ‘recanted,’ while potentially relevant to any ultimate conclusions reached, does not extinguish our need to investigate,” NFL senior V.P. of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch writes in his letter to NFLPA counsel Heather McPhee. “And it is hardly remarkable or dispositive that an individual would publicly disavow statements for which he may be subject to criminal or civil sanctions.”

Peyton Manning may disagree strongly with that sentiment, given the P.R. push from Camp Manning that Sly’s about-face proves that his claims are false. Still, the NFL is absolutely right on this point. It’s no surprise that a person who said one thing when he didn’t realize he was being recorded said something else once the syntax hit the fan.

Birch’s comments appear in support of the broader position that the NFL has a right to interview players as part of an investigation aimed at determining whether evidence of PED use exists beyond a positive test.

“[Y]our letters do not dispute that NFL players have an obligation to cooperate with league investigations and may be disciplined for failing to do so — a principle that, as you know, has been repeatedly confirmed in recent litigation between the parties,” Birch writes.

It’s also clear that the league believes it has the power to interview players without sharing any of the evidence that has been compiled against them, regardless of whether that evidence suggests innocence or guilt.

“[W]e are under no obligation to disclose all evidence uncovered thus far as a condition to interviewing the parties,” Birch writes, “which would clearly compromise the investigation.”

Here’s where it’s critical for the two sides to have a clear understanding regarding what the rules are regarding investigations. Neither the Collective Bargaining Agreement nor the PED policy contain language expressly acknowledging the league’s power to interview players as part of the investigation or outlining the rules and procedures that apply when an investigation occurs. In litigation, parties to the dispute aren’t expected to tell their stories without knowing what evidence the other side does or doesn’t possess. In investigations like this one, players shouldn’t be required to do it, either.

The fact that the CBA and the PED policy say nothing about the NFL’s and NFLPA’s rights and responsibilities when the league wants to interview players in connection with a possible PED violation suggests that the players aren’t required to provide any information until the NFL has developed enough evidence to justify discipline — and unless the player appeals the suspension. Even if the NFL has the ability to interview players before imposing discipline, the notion that the league can conceal the evidence and hope to coax the players into saying something that conflicts with other evidence that the league is hiding. absent express authorization to proceed in this way, justifies an effort by the NFLPA to resist making the players available.

With #Deflategate being an exercise in jumping to an uninformed conclusion and then launching an investigation aimed not at getting to the truth but justifying a predetermined outcome, there’s no reason for the NFLPA or anyone to believe the NFL will do anything differently in this case. As a result, there’s no reason for the NFLPA to agree to let the players walk into a potential buzzsaw.

Regardless of how this plays out, the NFL and NFLPA should come up with clear rules regarding the trigger for launching an investigation and the nuts and bolts associated with conducting it.

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