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Rex defends Dennis Thurman after accusation he slapped a woman

AP

A day after news broke that a woman accused Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman of slapping her, head coach Rex Ryan insisted that the story couldn’t possibly be true.

“I know Dennis Thurman, and Dennis Thurman, the guy that I know, wouldn’t put his hands on anybody, let alone a woman,” Ryan said, via NJ.com. “That’s the Dennis Thurman that I know.”

When Ryan addressed reporters today, he didn’t even wait for a question about Thurman. He just launched into a defense of him.

“I want to start today by talking about Dennis Thurman,” Ryan said. “Obviously, there’s something that’s out there. I’ve been fortunate to know Dennis Thurman for about 15 years—worked with him for a long, long time. I’ll tell you a little bit about the guy. He grew up with five sisters. He’s got two beautiful daughters, and Dennis Thurman—I trust and respect—I love Dennis Thurman, OK? As a person, it’s an honor to know Dennis. And he’s a great person. I think when all the facts come out about everything, I think that people will start to realize that it’ll come around that the guy that I’m describing, everybody else will see the same way I do. All right? Really I think that’s all I’m going to talk about, about this situation, but I know Dennis Thurman.”

A 28-year-old woman accused Thurman of slapping her at a restaurant, but the manager of the restaurant told the New York Daily News that there were 13 witnesses who said the woman was acting “crazy” and that Thurman did not hit her. Police investigated and no charges were filed.

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Chris Ballard expresses full confidence in Chuck Pagano

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If new Colts G.M. Chris Ballard would prefer to have his own guy coaching the team, he’s not letting on.

Ballard said on PFT Live that he’s confident in head coach Chuck Pagano, who is heading into his sixth year in Indianapolis as Ballard heads into his first.

“Chuck has won a lot of games. I think we lose perspective because of two 8-8 seasons, but chuck had three 11-win seasons, they were in the AFC Championship Game, Chuck has done a lot of good things,” Ballard said. “I would disagree with that statement that we’re planning on doing anything else.”

Pagano has been on the hot seat in each of the last two seasons, and there was widespread talk in both 2015 and 2016 that he could be on the way out. In the end, he saved his own job, even as former G.M. Ryan Grigson got the boot. Pagano may have to go better than 8-8 in 2017 if he wants to return in 2018, but for now, Ballard says he’s hoping they work together for years to come.

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Report: San Antonio could emerge as temporary home for Raiders

Immediately upon being approved to move to Las Vegas, Raiders owner Mark Davis said his team could still stay in Oakland for up to three seasons.

But if things get weird next year in Oakland, they figure to have options.

According to Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News, the possibility of the Raiders playing a year or so in San Antonio before their new stadium in Las Vegas is built in 2020 shouldn’t be ruled out.

San Antonio has been perfectly willing to be a host (or a stalking horse) in the past, and their flirtations with the Raiders have been overt. They have a ready made stadium in the Alamodome which  has hosted the Saints after Hurricane Katrina and Cowboys training camp often.

The Raiders have team options to play in Oakland’s existing coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and 2019 is to be determined. But if the reaction is bad this season — and there’s at least some early political grandstanding to suggest it might — Davis might not want to hang around for another year of being ignored or worse.

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John Fox confident in Kevin White’s resiliency

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The Bears said farewell to quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery this offseason, which means they’re set to have a very different looking passing game than they have had for the last few seasons.

Mike Glennon is in at quarterback and the team signed free agent wideouts Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton to catch his passes, but they remain hopeful that a holdover in the receiving corps can finally break out. Kevin White is that receiver and the 2015 first-round pick remains an unknown commodity after missing 28 of 32 games with leg injuries during his first two seasons.

White will be back for another try in 2017 and coach John Fox said on Tuesday that he remains confident that White will be able to bounce back.

“Obviously it’s not a great start to his career,” Fox said, via the Chicago Tribune. “I think he understands that greater than anybody. Because he’s been the one who’s had to deal with it. … I’m sure it has been frustrating. Anytime somebody is injured it’s frustrating for everybody — whether it’s fans, coaches, the player himself. But I think he’s a very resilient guy. That’s one of the biggest reasons why we drafted him. I think his makeup will prevail.”

Wright, Wheaton and Cameron Meredith (a team-high 66 catches last year) give the Bears some cover in the event that things go wrong for White again this year, but it would certainly be a positive development for Chicago if they started to get some return on a former first-round pick.

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John Harbaugh interested in Anquan Boldin return

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Wide receiver Anquan Boldin is unsigned, but reportedly has designs on playing during the 2017 season and one of his former employers could offer him a chance to make that happen.

Boldin spent three seasons with the Ravens from 2010-12 and capped his time in Baltimore with a Super Bowl ring, which are memories that seem to have made a strong impression on Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh said on Wednesday that he’s “interested” in Boldin returning to Baltimore for a second tour of duty.

Harbaugh said he believes Boldin can play “at the highest level” while noting that his interest doesn’t mean Boldin will be back in Charm City for the 2017 season.

“I’ve got to be careful in how I answer that because, of course, we are. Of course, I am. I’m thinking about it every day. Just like I’m thinking about [other open spots on the roster],” Harbaugh said, via the team’s website. “But that’s up to Ozzie. It’s up to all of us, but in the final accounting, I think we need to see what all the options are. And I don’t even know if Anquan wants to come back. That would be another thing that we have to look into.”

There’s not much experience behind Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman on the Ravens’ depth chart at receiver, although that would be quickly remedied by signing a player with 1,076 catches under his belt. It remains to be seen how things will progress from here, but Harbaugh’s comments would make a return engagement an unsurprising turn of events.

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Bill O’Brien: We’ve discussed Colin Kaepernick, he’s a good football player

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Texans coach Bill O’Brien said this week that he’s excited to work with quarterback Tom Savage this season, although owner Bob McNair admitted what many assumed when he said that the team would be looking to add a quarterback to the roster following the trade of Brock Osweiler.

Many believe the quarterback they’d like to add is Tony Romo, but the veteran is in a holding pattern with the Cowboys and their owner Jerry Jones suggested that it isn’t one that will resolve itself in the near future. That may force the Texans to look elsewhere.

The draft is one option, obviously, and there’s also the free agent market. Colin Kaepernick is the biggest name there and coach Bill O’Brien said on a visit to PFT Live that his name has been knocked around in Houston.

“We’ve watched him,” O’Brien said. “Like I’ve said, we feel good about where we’re at right now with Tom and Brandon Weeden, but we’ve watched him and discussed him. I think that’s a fluid situation as far as free agency goes, not just for Colin Kaepernick but for the teams. As you know, your roster’s not totally set until right before you open that season. He’s a good football player, he can run, he’s been coached well by [Jim] Harbaugh and Chip Kelly. Those guys are excellent coaches, so you know the background that he has. We’ll continue to discuss all the positions on our team, but we’ve definitely watched him.”

O’Brien’s answer is different than the one we heard from Browns coach Hue Jackson, who said that the team hasn’t talked about Kaepernick at all this offseason. Discussions don’t necessarily move Kaepernick any closer to a job for the 2017 season, of course, and nothing O’Brien said suggests that the Texans are going to be the team that changes his status to employed.

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Dolphins think Laremy Tunsil is a “special player” at left tackle

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The Dolphins were able to trade Branden Albert to the Jaguars after reports surfaced that they were going to release the veteran left tackle, but their willingness to move on without compensation was a pretty clear sign about how motivated they were to slice Albert from the roster.

The presence of 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil was the biggest part of that motivation. Coach Adam Gase gushed about Tunsil while speaking to the media at the league meetings in Arizona on Wednesday.

“We drafted him in the first round because we felt like he’s an elite left tackle,” Gase said, via the Miami Herald. “We felt like we have a special player there. When we watch him practice at left tackle, it looks different. You watch him: A guy his size, he moves so smooth. His confidence when he goes to left tackle, it changes. You can tell he knows that’s where he belongs. BA did a great job for us was a great leader for us. But it was time for us to get Laremy out to that left tackle spot.”

Tunsil played left guard last season, something Gase said will help him as a tackle because “it makes him understand the whole picture” of the offensive line rather than just one position. All of that adds up to high expectations for a player the Dolphins hope will be anchoring their line well into the next decade.

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Mickey Loomis: We’re “kicking the tires” on Malcolm Butler

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It has been more than a week since a report that the Saints and cornerback Malcolm Butler had the framework for a contract “mostly in place,” but things haven’t progressed beyond to an actual offer sheet.

During a discussion of the team’s offseason on Tuesday, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis didn’t say if that was because there had been a snag in negotiations or if it was because the need to give up the 11th pick in the draft as compensation to the Patriots in addition to a contract to Butler was too much for the Saints to bear.

“There’s not a lot I can say. We’re kicking the tires I guess,” Loomis said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “That’s the way to describe that. We’ll see how that process works.”

A third option would be to work out a trade with New England, but that would require Butler to sign his restricted free agent tender and there’s no sign that’s imminent with an April 21 deadline for other teams to sign him away. Loomis termed the need to add help at cornerback as a must for the Saints, so they’ll likely keep kicking the tires on Butler while also looking at the draft as a possible avenue to improve a pass defense that’s been lagging for some time.

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Sean Payton doesn’t slam the door on adding Johnny Manziel

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A string of tweets last week from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media created the impression that Saints coach Sean Payton has interest in free-agent quarterback Johnny Manziel. In an interview with PFT Live that will be aired on Thursday (but that loyal PFT readers get to see and hear now), Payton explained his current interest level in the former first-round pick of the Browns.

Payton didn’t slam the door on adding Manziel, but Payton also didn’t create the impression that anything will be happening soon, and that plenty of additional conversations with Manziel would be needed before an understanding would be reached as to an arrangement between Manziel and the Saints.

To see and hear everything Payton said about Manziel and various other topics (including the willingness or lack thereof to give up the No. 11 pick in round one to secure cornerback Malcolm Butler and the decision to trade receiver Brandin Cooks) check out the video.

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Michael Irvin investigated for sexual assault

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Hall of Fame Cowboys receiver and NFL Network commentator Michael Irvin is being investigated in a sexual assault case.

A 27-year-old woman told police she and Irvin were out at a bar and went back to his hotel together. She says she began to feel sick in his room, remembers fighting him off, and woke up as he was checking out. She called 911 at 7:30 a.m. on March 21, said she feared she was drugged and raped, and went to a medical lab for a swab and blood test, according to TMZ.

Irvin’s lawyer, Larry Friedman, is denying the charge.

The allegations are completely false,” Friedman told TMZ. “In the few hours since we’ve learned about them we’ve already discovered many red flags about this young woman’s background and the allegations she made against Michael. Even the complaint that she made specifically says she does not recall the events that took place. She was very drunk that night. Nothing happened and there was no assault.”

This is at least the third time Irvin has been named in a sexual assault case, but he has never been criminally charged. In 1997 he was falsely accused by a woman named Nina Shahravan, who admitted she lied and was sentenced to 90 days in jail for misdemeanor perjury in connection with the incident. In 2007 he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room. Prosecutors did not press charges, she sued him in civil court, he countersued for defamation, and those lawsuits resulted in a confidential settlement.

NFL Network told PFT that it will decline comment at this time.

It would be hard for the league-owned NFL Network to justify not suspending Irvin now that he has been accused again, given the precedent the league set by suspending Ben Roethlisberger. Although Roethlisberger maintained his innocence and did not face criminal charges, he was first named in a civil suit by one woman who claimed he raped her in a hotel room, then named later in a criminal complaint by another woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her in a bar restroom. After the second accusation, the NFL suspended Roethlisberger for the first four games of the 2010 season. Although Roethlisberger is an active player while Irvin is a retired player who works for the league as a broadcaster, they both work in the NFL, and the NFL has said its personal conduct rules apply to everyone who works in the league.

Irvin has not commented on the accusation.

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Ejections for “egregious” hits now a point of emphasis for officials

AP

The NFL didn’t need a vote of the owners to make one significant change this week, as certain dangerous hits on the field can now be cause for ejections.

The competition committee recommendation that ejections or suspensions for certain illegal hits is being added as a point of emphasis this year, meaning it didn’t require a vote from owners to become part of the landscape.

Competition committee chairman Rich McKay said he didn’t think the measure was a sign the league had a huge problem, but that there were examples of three or four “egregious” hits last year that needed harsher punishment, since fines weren’t making them go away.

“We don’t typically get ejections for football plays during a game, we get ejections for other reasons but not football plays — we recommend suspension even for a first-time offense,” McKay said. “Why? Because the hits were very egregious, to be quite frank.

“We quite frankly just want to get any of those hits out of the game. We think one way to get them out of the game is suspension because we think that is the ultimate deterrent to all players to not have those type of plays occur. We didn’t have very many of them. We don’t expect it to happen a lot. But it was a point of emphasis and it will be looked at this year.”

Eagles punt returner Darren Sproles being laid out by Washington safety Deshazor Everett was one of the examples they cited. Everett was penalized on the field and fined later in the week but not suspended.

But enforcing a new edict will still carry the burden of interpretation, giving officials more gray area to wade through, along with the inherent pressure of ejecting a player.

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Roger Goodell still doesn’t like gambling, but can live with Las Vegas

AP

Roger Goodell still doesn’t like gambling. And don’t even get him started on brothels.

But neither of those things kept him from jumping in the sack with Las Vegas this week, as the NFL casually voted to put the Raiders in Sin City.

The commissioner said Tuesday night as he wrapped up the NFL owners meeting that he’s still very concerned about the issue of gambling, but that enough other things changed that kept Las Vegas from being the boogeyman it once was.

“I would probably tell you that I think society has probably had a little bit of a change with respect to gambling in general,” Goodell said. “I think we still strongly oppose it in that room, and otherwise, legalized sports gambling. The integrity of our game is No. 1. We will not compromise on that.

“But I also believe that Las Vegas is not the same city it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It’s a much more diverse city. It has become an entertainment mecca. It’s the fastest-growing city in the country. So I think when you look at it today versus what it was a decade or two ago, I think it’s a much different city. And they made a very compelling proposal, which the owners obviously approved overwhelmingly.”

That change in attitudes, and $750 million in public money (plus add-ons) made a difference, apparently.

Goodell has previously called gambling his top concern when it came to the integrity of the game. And while a question about the Raiders-themed brothel got a laugh out of him, the specter of gambling still looms large over the move. He made his serious face and talked about the importance of maintaining the “integrity of the game,” while at the same time suggesting the danger of putting 21-year-olds in Vegas on a full-time basis was no more dangerous than anywhere else (and to be fair, Odell Beckham and his boat trip in South Beach underscored some of that for him).

“My experience is that 21-year-olds can find trouble in a lot of different places, so that’s one of the reasons why we focus so much on our personal conduct policies,” he said. “It’s educating players and helping them make better judgments, giving them better information so they avoid problems. . . .

“We’re going to have to obviously keep a focus on that, no matter where our franchises are.”

But this one, obviously, he’ll need to keep both eyes on, even if that means lifting the eye patch.

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Adam Gase wants a more aggressive Ryan Tannehill in 2017

AP

Dolphins coach Adam Gase doesn’t want quarterback Ryan Tannehill worrying about making mistakes.

Gase said on PFT Live that his No. 1 priority for Tannehill in 2017 is to be willing to take chances, both with his arm and with his legs, if that’s what he has to do to make plays.

“Just be more aggressive,” Gase said. “I really want him to feel comfortable that his decision is going to be right. If he feels like something is not really happening the way he wants, escape from the pocket and not hesitate and worry about, Did I miss something? He’s a perfectionist so he wants to be able to stand back there and go through his progression, go one to two to his checkdown. Guys that have athletic ability, that can run, want to prove they can be a great pocket passer. All I care about is getting the first down and scoring points.”

Tannehill’s completion percentage was a career-high 67.1 percent in his first year in Gase’s offense, but Gase may be willing to see that number go down a little bit if it means Tannehill is taking more chances and making more plays downfield.

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Report: Patriots will not consider drafting Joe Mixon

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Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is the most controversial player in this year’s draft, a first-round talent who was caught on tape hitting a woman in an incident every bit as ugly as the one that ended Ray Rice’s career.

Some teams have confirmed, however, that they’re still considering drafting Mixon. Other teams won’t give him a thought. We can add the Patriots to that latter group.

According to the Boston Herald, the Patriots absolutely will not even consider drafting Mixon.

That means the Patriots will join the Dolphins, who also have reportedly decided they don’t want Mixon and his baggage on their team.

But for Mixon, all it takes is one team willing to overlook his past in favor of his future. There will surely be at least once such team, even if many others think he’s more trouble than he’s worth.

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Jay Gruden was disappointed by the firing of Scot McCloughan

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Washington head coach Jay Gruden was sorry to see G.M. Scot McCloughan go.

Gruden said at the league meeting that he was upset when he learned McCloughan had been fired.

“I was disappointed,” Gruden said, via Liz Clarke of the Washington Post. “I like Scot; I liked working with Scot. I think he’s a good person and a great talent evaluator. Anytime you lose someone, it’s disappointing. But at the end of the day, it’s professional football. Anyone who has been around it understands that change is going to happen.”

Gruden’s public comments stand in contrast with some of the anonymous sources out of Washington who bad-mouthed McCloughan out the door and suggested that he has a drinking problem that contributed to his firing. Gruden wouldn’t say directly when asked if the team needed to fire McCloughan.

“I’m not going to say it had to be made. It was made,” he said. “That’s all I can live with. When decisions are made of that magnitude, you reflect on the good things you learned from Scot and the good things he did for the team. And you move forward.”

Gruden sounds like he would have been perfectly happy to keep working with McCloughan. But the higher-ups in the organization, owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen, apparently thought otherwise.

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Jaguars bump offseason reporting date back after NFLPA challenge

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Doug Marrone is the newly appointed head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. New head coaches in the NFL are permitted to begin their offseason programs a week earlier than incumbent coaches in order to give new staffs a chance to get a head start.

However, Marrone had already been coaching in Jacksonville for the last two seasons as an assistant on Gus Bradley’s staff. And that distinction has led to a butting of heads between the Jaguars and the NFL Players’ Association.

The Jaguars had received approval from the NFL to begin their offseason program on April 10 along with the other teams with new head coaches. However, the NFLPA challenged the Jaguars’ status of having a new head coach since Marrone served as interim head coach to end last season.

“Our position is that Doug Marrone is a new head coach this season after serving as interim head coach for the last two games of the 2016 season,” Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said in a statement released by the team.

Following conversations with the league, the Jaguars have revised their offseason program to begin on April 17.

“We are glad to now know our reporting date, although we had planned to begin on April 10, and we had already invited our players to come in on that day,” Coughlin said.

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