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Buccaneers pushing hard to sign Michael Johnson

Nick Foles, Michael Johnson AP

Count the Buccaneers among the teams that would love to add Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson in free agency.

Johnson has already drawn interest from about a quarter of the league with two days to go before free agency officially opens, and according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Buccaneers are pushing hard to sign Johnson. New Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith would love to add a pass-rushing defensive end to his defense, and Johnson may be the best fit of any free agent available.

If Johnson gets the big contract it appears he’s about to get, then he has played free agency perfectly. Last year, when the market was down, Johnson decided to sign the franchise tag and play for the Bengals on a one-year salary of $11.2 million. This year the salary cap is higher and the market is up, and Johnson gets to test the free market.

Johnson, the No. 5 player on our Free Agent Hot 100, is surely about to become one of the highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL.

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Jason Licht: It’s going to take more than Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston AP

The Buccaneers were convinced that quarterback Jameis Winston was the best choice with the first pick in the 2015 draft and they’ve been happy with what they’ve seen from Winston in his brief stint with the team, but General Manager Jason Licht isn’t losing sight of the fact that Winston is a rookie.

Licht said Tuesday that the team is doing all it can to minimize Winston’s struggles in his first NFL season, but knows that history says rookie quarterbacks throw a lot of interceptions and make other mistakes born of inexperience. As a result, Licht said the rest of the team is going to have to pick up their game around Winston in order for Tampa to succeed.

“We’re going to do our best and the coaching staff to make sure the weight of the world is not on [Winston],” Licht said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s going to take great defense, it’s going to take a lot of other things in the offense, not just him. He’s going to be a pivotal part of that when he’s playing. But it’s going to take more than that. Let’s be honest, there is a lot of pressure on the guy … but to me, he’s proven that he can handle pressure. I think he’s done a phenomenal job. He never came in and said, “Hey, look at me, I’m the leader.’ Until he’s the starter, he’s not the starter. He’s actually been a little quieter than I thought he was going to be.”

Every quarterback needs the help of his teammates in order to win games, but the weight of the results still tend to fall more heavily on their shoulders than on any other players. That’s especially true of quarterbacks taken with the first overall pick, which makes it important for the Bucs that Licht is right about Winston being cool under pressure.

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Charles Tillman is safe — and clean — after emergency landing

Charles Tillman AP

Charles Tillman is heading to his first training camp with the Carolina Panthers with a pure spirit.

And clean shorts.

According to WCNC, the veteran cornerback was on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Charlotte that had to make an emergency landing in Indianapolis Tuesday night.

The plane was sent to Indy for what an airline spokesperson called an “indication of a mechanical issue.” But after it was checked out there, it was cleared to fly and continued to Charlotte.

Tillman tweeted out a video from inside a plane, showing emergency vehicles parked around it with the caption: “Hopefully this will be my first and only emergency landing… #changingmyunderwearnow #thankyoujesus”

It’s good to know that Tillman’s prepared, keeping a clean pair in his carry-on bag. And, you know, that he and all aboard were safe.

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Terrelle Pryor: I believe in my heart that I’m going to be the best

Terrelle Pryor AP

As part of his transition to wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor spent time working out this offseason with Randy Moss, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Josh Gordon and that training has helped his confidence heading into training camp with the Browns.

Pryor said that watching those players go through the workouts made him realize “there’s some stuff I look very similar with my cuts” and bolstered his belief that he can be a very successful NFL wideout.

“I believe I can do this,” Pryor said, via Cleveland.com. “When I work out and when I train to do something, I don’t do it just to be OK. I believe in my heart with my God-given ability that I’m going to be the best. That’s not being arrogant or cocky. No one outworks me, so I believe in my heart if I put my mind to anything, I can accomplish it. I believe you have to have that edge.”

Pryor also spent some time catching passes from Browns quarterback Josh McCown and getting a grasp on the team’s offense. Some of that has been made easier by his past relationship with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who coached Pryor in Oakland and is using a playbook that Pryor feels familiar with early in his time with the club.

A familiar scheme and Pryor’s athletic ability should help him acclimate himself into the offense this summer, but there are sure to be rough spots for a player switching to an entirely new position at this level. Pryor’s ability to overcome and learn from those obstacles will determine how high he can climb as a receiver and the Browns’ need for more firepower on offense should provide him ample opportunities to prove he can do it.

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Why didn’t Goodell increase Brady’s suspension?

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As noted last night, the NFL has gotten plenty of things wrong in the #DeflateGate saga. But it has mastered the art and science of public relations.

The league delivered what seemed as of Tuesday afternoon to be the death blow to Brady’s case, at least in the court of public opinion, by declaring in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s 20-page ruling released to the media (curiously, the ruling in the Greg Hardy case that knocked the Commissioner’s punishment from 10 games to four was not released to the media) and in the press release accompanying the ruling that “important new information” was discovered during the appeal process.

“On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, Brady directed that the cell phone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed,”  the four-paragraph press release states in paragraph three. “He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone. ‎During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.”

That paragraph evoked a “wow” from anyone who read it. Multiple members of the media declared that the revelation was “shocking.” It galvanized the opinions of those who believe Brady is guilty, and it left those who believe in him with one less reason to believe.

But here’s the biggest flaw of logic in that arguably trumped-up disclosure. If this really was “new information” that Brady concealed during his meeting with Ted Wells (as noted at the bottom of page 12 of the ruling), why didn’t “The Enforcer” attempt to impose greater discipline on Brady than the four-game suspension levied without knowing that he had “destroyed” his cell phone?

Goodell calls the development “very troubling” at page 13 of the ruling, accusing Brady of a “deliberate effort to ensure that investigators would never have access to information he had been asked to produce,” of “conceal[ing] potentially relevant evidence to undermine the investigation,” and of “conceal[ing] for months that he had destroyed the cellphone requested by the investigators.”

In other words, Goodell determined that this new information meant Brady hadn’t simply failed to cooperate with the investigation but that he had affirmatively obstructed it. Which, if true, should have resulted in new and enhanced penalties.

But the 20-page, single-spaced ruling never addresses the obvious consequence to the conclusion that, only five days before the hearing, Brady shot himself in the foot with a smoking gun that proves an intentional effort to hide evidence.

At a minimum, the case should have been immediately remanded to Troy Vincent (or to whoever actually made the original decision) for proceedings aimed at exploring whether Brady’s previously unknown conduct justifies separate discipline. But that didn’t happen, possibly (probably) because a full-blown examination of the issue would have undermined the very useful P.R. message that Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

Already, Brady has offered an alternative explanation, beyond the one that appeared tucked into footnote 11 on page 12 of the ruling. If the NFL had done what seemed logical and reasonable in light of this brand-new notion that Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone and commissioned a full-blown examination of the issue, the end result may have diluted the P.R. message that rocketed from coast to coast on Tuesday afternoon, on the trail that had been blazed by the seemingly outrageous disclosure from Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday morning that Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

The league wants us all to believe that. But if the league truly believed it, the league should have done more than simply use it to justify the suspension that already had been imposed.

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Sen’Derrick Marks, James Sample placed on Jags PUP list

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

When first-round pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL at rookie minicamp, the Jaguars knew that they wouldn’t open training camp at full strength but their injury concerns go beyond the rookie pass rusher.

Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and rookie safety James Sample will begin camp on the physically unable to perform list as they continue to rehab injuries. Marks tore his ACL in Week 17 last season and has set a goal of returning to the field for the first week of the regular season. Marks led the team with 8.5 sacks last season and they’ll need him to provide the same kind of push up front for their defense to succeed in 2015.

Sample, a fourth-round pick this year, broke his arm during offseason workouts and is expected to be ready to resume practicing around the middle of August. That won’t leave him much time to make his case for starting over veteran Sergio Brown, but he should be able to contribute to the team in some way this season.

The Jaguars also placed defensive end Nordly Capi on the non-football injury list.

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Tom Brady: I’m very disappointed, I did nothing wrong

Getty Images Getty Images

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has issued a statement denying any wrongdoing in Deflategate, and decrying NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend him for the first four games of the season.

“I am very disappointed by the NFL’s decision to uphold the 4 game suspension against me,” Brady wrote on Facebook. “I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either.

“Despite submitting to hours of testimony over the past 6 months, it is disappointing that the Commissioner upheld my suspension based upon a standard that it was ‘probable’ that I was ‘generally aware’ of misconduct. The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused. He dismissed my hours of testimony and it is disappointing that he found it unreliable.

“I also disagree with yesterdays narrative surrounding my cellphone. I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline.

“Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong.

“To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone. In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time. Regardless, the NFL knows that Mr. Wells already had ALL relevant communications with Patriots personnel that either Mr. Wells saw or that I was questioned about in my appeal hearing. There is no ‘smoking gun’ and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact they have zero evidence of wrongdoing.

“I authorized the NFLPA to make a settlement offer to the NFL so that we could avoid going to court and put this inconsequential issue behind us as we move forward into this season. The discipline was upheld without any counter offer. I respect the Commissioners authority, but he also has to respect the CBA and my rights as a private citizen. I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight.

“Lastly, I am overwhelmed and humbled by the support of family, friends and our fans who have supported me since the false accusations were made after the AFC Championship game. I look forward to the opportunity to resume playing with my teammates and winning more games for the New England Patriots.”

Although Brady didn’t specifically say so, his next step will be to go to court to attempt to have his suspension overturned. This battle isn’t over, and Brady doesn’t sound ready to give up the fight.

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Adrian Peterson “started off slow” in return to practice

Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson AP

Adrian Peterson got rave reviews from his Vikings teammates regarding his physical condition when he returned to the fold this spring, but it was still a long time since the running back was taking part in full practices with the team when training camp got underway.

It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that Peterson wasn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment he stepped back onto the field this week. In a conversation with Marshall Faulk of NFL Media on Tuesday, Peterson explained what was missing in his first practice of the year.

“I kind of started off slow the first practice, 9-on-7,” Peterson said. “It was decent but really didn’t feel as explosive as I would have liked so I kind of had to grind, normally I do my hulk, little grind, wake myself up and felt a little spark and kind of got back into the groove. After that I feel pretty good. That hunger is there. I’m sure as we go through camp, get these pads on, it’ll just wake up even more.”

Peterson’s already shared his goal of 2,500 rushing yards for the season and told Faulk that he’s aiming to do “something the eyes haven’t seen before” in 2015, but none of that’s possible without knocking off almost a year’s worth of rust. That process is underway and the Vikings will be hoping none is left by the time Week One rolls around.

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Cowboys not interested in Ray Rice or Chris Johnson — yet

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Cowboys haven’t been afraid to line up players with checkered pasts, or big personalities.

But for the moment, they don’t appear ready to add either to their patchwork running back corps.

According to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys aren’t prepared to make a run at either Ray Rice or Chris Johnson at the moment.

They cut Ryan Williams Tuesday, making some wonder if they wanted to bring in a name-brand back to replace him. Instead, they signed a rookie from Stephen F. Austin named Gus Johnson. That leaves Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar as the three atop the depth chart after they let league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray go to Philadelphia.

The on-hand options are at least going to get a chance to prove themselves in camp before the team makes a move, although they’re the Cowboys, and may not be able to help themselves.

“Never know what will happen in a couple weeks,” a source there said.

If someone gets hurt or reveals themselves to be unprepared, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cowboys make a splashy move. Mainly. because they’re the Cowboys.

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Mike Brown takes blame for Bengals not honoring past players

Cincinnati Bengals v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Packers fans filled Lambeau Field earlier this month to celebrate Brett Favre’s entry into the team’s Hall of Fame and they’ll fill it again on Thanksgiving to celebrate Favre’s career again.

Plenty of other stadiums will play host to similar moments this season as teams guarantee their fans will have something to cheer about by welcoming back old heroes for another round of applause. Paul Brown Stadium will have no such events because the Bengals have no team Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor or anything else devoted to the achievements of players like Anthony Munoz, Ken Anderson or Ken Riley other than pictures by one entrance to the stadium.

Some former Bengals have complained about that and owner Mike Brown said Tuesday that he’s heard their complaints.

“I understand the players,” Brown said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “They want to be remembered. I think it is a good thing to do that. We have never traded here on nostalgia. That’s probably my fault. Because a little of it is a good thing. Fans like that sort of thing. What I’m saying is I’m stewing on it. I’m aware of the discomfort with our position. … We’ve had decades now of wonderful players here. I can understand why people feel we should have celebrated them more and perpetuated their achievements better than we have. I’m probably at fault.”

Brown’s admission isn’t a promise that the Bengals will immediately start doing things differently. While he admits the pictures hanging are “probably not” enough reference to the team’s history, Brown said that “maybe someone who comes after me can do better” when it comes to celebrating the past.

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Giants co-owner: Deal for Eli Manning coming soon, if not this week

Odell Beckham Jr, Eli Manning AP

While there hasn’t been much talk about the Super Bowl-winning quarterback entering the final year of his contract (no, we’re not talking about you, Russell Wilson), it does appear a new deal is on the horizon.

Giants co-owner John Mara told Steve Serby of the New York Post that it might not be by the time the Giants report to camp Thursday, but that a deal for Eli Manning could be done before the start of the regular season.

“I would doubt that that would happen in that quick a time frame,” Mara said. “We would hope to have it done at some point before the season. But if not, it’ll hopefully get done at some point after that.

Mara said “I don’t believe that anybody’s put any deadlines on it,” but made it clear he doesn’t want anyone else quarterbacking his team in the near future.

“Well we still believe that he can play at a very high level and win a championship for us,” Mara said. “He looked like a new man in the spring, his arm was very live, and he’s moving around very well. His play in 2014 was significantly better than it was in 2013, so I think the arrow is still up for him.”

Manning doesn’t make much of a flap about anything, so it’s not a surprise that a new contract seems inevitable if not quite imminent without a blow-by-blow accounting of the process. But it will be interesting to see how it slots in with other recent deals, to point to how the Giants truly value him.

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Todd Bowles will be ready for camp after knee surgery

New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles talks to the media after practice at the team's NFL football rookie minicamp, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Florham Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz) AP

Todd Bowles might be glad there are no more two-a-days, and not just for the welfare of his players.

Via Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, the Jets coach had a partial knee replacement on July 6, but is expected to be ready when the Jets report to camp and begin practicing this week.

The 51-year-old Bowles played in the NFL, so some wear and tear is expected. He joked about a sore knee when he got on a podium to talk to reporters earlier this spring, and wore a sleeve on one knee.

He’s not expected to be limited when practices start, keeping him from having to be listed on the physically unable to perform list.

We’ll see this week if he’s holding up better than 72-year-old Jerry Jones, as the Cowboys owner had his hip replaced last week.

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Bills release Chris Williams after failed physical

Chris Williams Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills released guard Chris Williams after he failed a physical with the team on Tuesday.

The former 2008 first-round pick of the Chicago Bears played in three games for the Bills last season after signing a four-year deal with the team last offseason. However, a back injury led to Williams being placed on injured reserve in October.

Williams hasn’t been able to perform at a high level consistently throughout his career. After five sub-par seasons with the Bears, Williams signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2012. He appeared in 19 games for the Rams over two season, including starting all 16 games in 2013 before moving on to Buffalo.

Richie Incognito appears to be the favorite to replace Williams as the team’s starting left guard this season.

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Eric Berry is cleared to practice on Wednesday

Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

And now it’s time for a little good news. Or a lot of great news.

The Chiefs have announced that safety Eric Berry has been cleared to return to practice on Wednesday, when the team launches training camp. The final decision came Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, coach Andy Reid and trainer Rick Burkholder will address the situation at a press conference.

Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in December of 2014. He immediately started treatments, and he concluded the process in June.

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Brady offered to help NFL gather missing text messages

Phone Getty Images

If nothing else, the NFL can (when it wants to) master the art of public relations. Sure, the league screwed the pooch in the Ray Rice debacle last year, failing to realize that a video existed or that it would inevitably be leaked. But while the #DeflateGate episode has featured many very real flaws regarding the substance of the case, the league has done a great job of getting its messages out in a strong, clear way.

It started, of course, with the mistaken air pressure information from the initial letter to the Patriots, in which league executive Dave Gardi told the team that one of the footballs measured at 10.1 PSI — even though none of them were that low. It quickly continued with the leak of blatantly false information to ESPN that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs were a full two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. This cemented the notion that someone deflated the footballs, leaving only two questions: (1) who did it?; and (2) who knew about it?

Months later, it became clear that the information was incorrect. But the damage already had been done, with a curiosity instantly morphing into a multi-million-dollar investigation and the Patriots thrown against the ropes from the outset of the fight.

The P.R. mastery continued with the release of the Ted Wells report, which created the initial widespread impression that the Patriots cheated, and that quarterback Tom Brady knew about it. By the time those in the media inclined to digest the 243-page opus began to notice the warts, the narrative had been locked in by those who admittedly didn’t bother to roll up their sleeves and start reading.

The coup de grâce came Tuesday morning, when the league leaked to ESPN that “Brady destroyed his cell phone,” locking in the notion that something sinister — and irreparable — had occurred. The press release announcing the decision likewise focused on the destruction of the cell phone, raising eyebrows from sea to shining sea and reinforcing for many the idea that Brady had something to hide, and that he tried to hide it.

But like the much longer Wells report, closer inspection of the Goodell decision undermines the primary conclusion. And, as usual, the Achilles heel can be found in a footnote.

Specifically, it can be found at footnote 11 on page 12: “After the hearing and after the submission of post-hearing briefs, Mr. Brady’s certified agents offered to provide a spreadsheet that would identify all of the individuals with whom Mr. Brady had exchanged text messages during [the relevant time] period; the agents suggested that the League could contact those individuals and request production of any relevant text messages that they retained. Aside from the fact that, under Article 46, Section 2(f) of the CBA, such information could and should have been provided long before the hearing, the approach suggested in the agents’ letter — which would require tracking down numerous individuals and seeking consent from each to retrieve from their cellphones detailed information about their text message communications during the relevant period — is simply not practical.”

In English, here’s what the footnote means: Although the text messages couldn’t be retrieved directly from Brady’s phone, his agents provided all of the phone numbers with which Brady exchanged text messages. His agents also said that the league could attempt to get the actual text messages from the phones of the people with whom Brady communicated, but the league refused to attempt to try, claiming that it would be too hard to track down the various people and to persuade them to cooperate.

How hard would it be? Goodell’s ruling points out that “nearly 10,000 text messages” were exchanged on Brady’s phone in a four-month period, but Goodell’s ruling doesn’t provide the total volume of numbers that sent text messages to or received text messages from Brady’s “destroyed” phone. At an average of 2,500 text messages sent and received per month, which works out to an average of 83 sent and received per day (with some people surely sending and receiving a lot of short messages to and from Brady), how many people was he actually communicating with?

More importantly, how many of those people are Patriots employees, how many are family members, how many are friends, how many are people who would have no reason to be saying anything to or hearing anything from Brady about this specific case?

“I very much look forward to hearing from Mr. Brady and to considering any new information or evidence that he may bring to my attention,” Goodell said last month. And so Brady admits that he has a habit of dismantling his phone when he buys a new one, he provides the full list of phone numbers with which the dismantled phone communicated, and Goodell nevertheless refuses to try to identify the persons with whom Brady exchanged messages or to obtain the actual content of them, despite the commitment to “considering any new information or evidence.”

The league arguably opted not to track down the text messages or to match them up with text messages that the league already harvested from other phones, like the one used by John Jastremski, because the league already had the silver bullet it needed to win convincingly in the court of public opinion.

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone. 

It was expertly leaked to ESPN by the same league office that had expertly leaked the 11-of-12 footballs falsehood to ESPN.

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

It’s a theme that will be adhered to even though Brady made available the phone numbers necessary to reconstructing the contents of the messages.

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

The details don’t matter once the message takes root. For #DeflateGate, a couple of giant oaks are growing at the NFL’s equivalent of Toomer’s Corner. The first one? 11 of 12 footballs were two pounds under the minimum PSI.

The second?

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

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Jeromey Mincey a no-show for Cowboys camp

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Dez Bryant will be at Cowboys training camp. At least for now, Jeremey Mincey won’t be.

Per multiple reports surfacing at roughly the same time (i.e., group text message from agent), Mincey has not reported to the team’s training camp in Oxnard, California.

Via Adam Schefter of ESPN, Mincey ranks 70th on the league-wide list of defensive ends. Efforts to get him a raise have been unsuccessful.

Mincey signed a two-year, $3 million contract last year, which included a $500,000 signing bonus. Since he’s still under contract, Mincey risks fines in the amount of $30,000 per day.

He’s due to earn a base salary of $1.5 million, with a cap hit of $1.75 million. Mincey started all 16 games last year, racking up six sacks.

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