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Burbank’s decision could make slot receivers into tight ends

Amendola AP

Remember the rumor that the Rams were thinking about applying the tight end transition tag to receiver Danny Amendola?  Jeff Fisher, Les Snead, and company may have been on to something.

Wednesday’s results-driven ruling from arbitrator Stephen Burbank, which dubbed Jimmy Graham a tight end for franchise-tag purposes, could change the way teams handle their slot receivers.  If, based on Burbank’s reasoning, a player lines up within four yards of a tackle, he can be regarded as a tight end, not a receiver.

While it would be a little obvious for teams to suddenly change the position of a player approaching free agency from receiver to tight end, smart teams will start calling slot receivers “tight ends” from the get-go.  If those players are consistently described and treated as tight ends — and if they line up more times within four yards of the tackle than anywhere else — a slot receiver who plays really well and becomes a free agent could be retained via the far cheaper tight end franchise tender.

The possibility of shenanigans makes the creation of a new category under the franchise and transition tag even more important.  While still generically a tight end or a receiver, a player who consistently lines up neither wide to the sideline nor tight to the tackle plays a position that has a value falling between tight end and wide receiver.  So whether it’s Graham or Amendola or Anquan Boldin or anyone else, a franchise tag that reflects the actual value of the hybrid role is needed.

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NFL suspends R.J. Dill for taking testosterone while not in the NFL

Dallas Cowboys v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

NFL players remain subject to the league’s strict performance-enhancing drug-testing policy even after they think their careers have ended, as a little-known player named R.J. Dill has found out the hard way.

Dill, an offensive lineman with the Cowboys who was suspended for the first four games of this season, said in a statement today that the banned substance he took — prescription testosterone — was something he needed for medical reasons, and he only took it after he failed to make a roster last year and thought his career was over. That doesn’t matter to the NFL. Testosterone is banned by the NFL except when a player gets an exemption for extraordinary circumstances (such as a player whose body stopped producing testosterone because he lost his testicles to cancer), and so when Dill returned to the NFL and tested positive for testosterone, he was suspended.

“I saw my doctor, and blood tests revealed that my testosterone levels were very low,” Dill said. “My doctor suggested that I undergo testosterone replacement therapy, and I accepted the recommended treatment. I completed one round of testosterone replacement therapy in November of 2014, and almost immediately, I felt like my old self again. At this time I was not under contract with any NFL team, nor was I actively pursuing an NFL career.

“Then, in January of 2015, I unexpectedly received a call from the Dallas Cowboys. They were interested in signing me to a futures contract, and after passing a physical, I signed a contract and immersed myself in training for the 2015 NFL season. Unfortunately, my excitement was subdued when in May 2015 I was told by the NFL that I had failed a drug test. While my doctor had told me that the residual amounts of the testosterone would be out of my system about eight weeks after treatment, that was not accurate, and I failed a drug test a full six months after I had received the prescribed treatment.”

Dill attempted to get a therapeutic use exemption, but the NFL declined it, and so he is suspended. Realistically, Dill probably wasn’t going to make the 53-player roster anyway, and there’s a good chance he’ll get cut soon and be out of the league anyway.

The league’s rules are tough for players who have a legitimate medical need for testosterone and tough for players who use substances while they’re not even under contract to an NFL team, but that’s how it should be. Handing out permission slips for players to take otherwise banned substances would lead to huge numbers of players using those substances to get an edge. And allowing players to get out of the PED-testing policy by declaring their retirement would lead to a rash of players calling themselves retired, using banned substances, and then coming out of retirement and returning bigger and stronger thanks to PED use.

“It is very difficult for me to accept that a suspension is imposed by the NFL after I followed treatment prescribed by a medical professional during a time when I was not employed by an NFL team,” Dill said.

It’s easy to see why Dill feels that way. But it’s also easy to see why the NFL feels that it has to suspend him.

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Colts activate Donald Thomas from PUP list

Donald Thomas AP

The Colts felt good enough about guard Donald Thomas’s future to sign him to a four-year, $14 million contract before the 2013 season, but they’ve gotten very little return on that investment.

Thomas tore his quadriceps two games into the 2013 season and missed the rest of the year before returning to camp the next year just long enough to tear his quad again. Thomas missed all of last season as well, leaving him with little to show for his time with the Colts.

He’ll get a chance to change that now that the team has activated him from the physically unable to perform list. With a little over a week left before the cut to 53 players, Thomas is going to have to show the Colts he’s capable of helping them pretty quickly.

Thomas is due $3.5 million in base salary this season and it becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster at the start of the regular season. While that salary looks like a lot for a player who has played as little as Thomas, the Colts haven’t been thrilled with the play of their line and that could allow him to stick around.

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Michael Bennett fined for hit on Alex Smith

Michael Bennett AP

During a radio interview earlier this week, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett complained about the different treatment afforded to quarterbacks when it came to salaries and protection from officials.

Bennett referenced Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’s much-discussed hit on Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford and wondered “what makes [a quarterback’s] life better than mine” since Bennett gets hit in the legs on every play. Given his feelings about the rules governing hits to quarterbacks, Bennett probably wasn’t pleased to find out that the league has fined him for a hit in last week’s game.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that Bennett has been fined $17,363 for a hit to the head/neck area of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Bennett was flagged for roughing the passer on Kansas City’s first offensive play of the game and later got a sack of Smith that went unflagged by the officials.

Bennett can appeal the fine and/or use it as the centerpiece for another entertaining radio spot at some point down the line.

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Saints aren’t sweating the Falcons getting a new Mercedes-Benz


Even though their neighbors in the NFC South just got a newer model, the Saints might extend their lease on their current Mercedes-Benz.

The luxury carmaker already had naming rights to the Superdome, and recently announced they had purchased the naming rights to the Falcons’ new stadium as well.

The Falcons move into their new building in 2017, but Saints president Dennis Lauscha said that didn’t mean the Saints deal with Mercedes-Benz couldn’t be renewed beyond its current 2021 expiration, and that they weren’t caught off guard. Lauscha said he talked to Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon before the Falcons announcement.

“He contacted us and said, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to do this. We want to let you know we’re going to do this. We certainly mean no disrespect in any way, shape or form,'” Lauscha said, via Evan Woodberry of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“Not that I’m aware of. I would go so far as to say is that we actually have our head of sponsorship in New York meeting with them (this week),” Lauscha said. “I don’t want to suggest that we’re signing a long-term or anything. I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just saying the relationship is very good. We’re very happy and they’re very happy.”

Of course, Mercedes-Benz is also going to be parking in a nicer driveway soon, so that might change.

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Lesser charges for Justin Hunter

Pittsburgh Steelers v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The charges against Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter stemming from a July 3 incident in Virginia Beach have been lessened to misdemeanor assault and battery, per The Tennesseean.

His trial begins next week, and a Friday statement from state prosecutors said information gathered from interviews with witnesses “better supports the charge of assault and battery.”

Prosecutors said that Hunter punched another man several times, which led the alleged victim to go to the hospital to be treated for a broken jaw. After being released on a $25,000 bond, Hunter was placed under a court-ordered curfew that runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and barred from drinking alcohol.

The Titans are hoping this can be the year Hunter puts it all together on the field. The NFL has monitored the case but Hunter has not been subject thus far to any league or team discipline.

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O’Brien says Mallett remains the No. 2 quarterback

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Oversleeping may have relegated Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett to third-string for Friday. But the move won’t be permanent, at least not yet.

Coach Bill O’Brien told reporters on Friday that Mallett remains the second-string quarterback, behind starter Brian Hoyer.

Beyond that, O’Brien didn’t have much to offer.

“[T]he situation with Ryan not being at practice [Thursday], that’s between Ryan and I,” O’Brien told reporters. “There are a lot things that I will explain to you and I realize that you have a job to do, I really do. I said that in the very first meeting with you this year. I have a lot of respect for you and your profession and what you’re trying to do with information and all those things. I get it. But some things are left within the team, and this is one of them. I’m not going to take any more questions on [Thursday] as it regards to Ryan Mallett.”

It’s no surprise that O’Brien either sent Mallett home or told him to stay home after showing up late for work; O’Brien’s former boss in New England routinely does the same thing in response to tardiness, even if the tardiness is the result of a blizzard.

Perhaps Tuesday night’s edition of Hard Knocks will have more details about Mallett’s sleep habits, or other topics aimed at keeping the audience awake.

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Not much precedent for notable August QB trades

Tennessee Titans v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

With the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, immediately installed as starters for their respective teams, it’s easy to assume that there’s been outside interest in young quarterbacks already on those rosters, Mike Glennon of the Bucs and Zach Mettenberger of the Titans.

In a league with more teams than quality starting quarterbacks and even fewer legitimate backup options, Matt Flynn and Michael Vick, just to name a couple, have recently found work. So a player like Mettenberger, for example, who’s in his second season and has shown he shares at least some traits with successful starters across the league would and should draw outside interest.

Earlier this week, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt sounded like Mettenberger isn’t going anywhere.

“In the league today it is very hard for one quarterback to make it through the whole season, so you better have a plan in case your starter doesn’t go,” Whisenhunt said. “So we certainly feel very fortunate that we have Zach, and what Zach brings to the table.”

While the Browns and Jets and Bills, possibly among others, might have good reasons to explore possibilities for boosting their quarterback stables over the next week or so as rosters are trimmed and decisions are made, history says teams don’t trade quarterbacks at this time of year, at least not good ones.

Ryan Mallett was traded last Aug. 31 from the Patriots to the Texans. Mallett started two games last season before getting hurt, then no-showed a practice this week after it was announced he’d lost a training-camp battle with Brian Hoyer for the starting job in Houston.

There have been nine August quarterback trades in the last 15 years. The vast majority of them involved journeymen such as Kelly Holcomb, Sage Rosenfels, John Beck and Brooks Bollinger. The Packers trading Brett Favre to the Jets in 2008 stands out as an exception, but that was a soap opera all its own after Favre, then 38, basically refused to report to the Packers.

Going back to last winter, Glennon rumors started swirling as soon as it became clear the Bucs would use the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft on a quarterback. The Bucs ended up cutting Josh McCown and keeping Glennon, who’s been playing as the No. 2 behind Winston.

Speaking of McCown, he was traded from Miami to Carolina in August 2008. With Johnny Manziel injured and likely done for the preseason, Thad Lewis moves to the No. 2 spot behind McCown with the Browns. Lewis was traded in August 2013 from Detroit to Buffalo.

So, these August movers do not form an elite club. And though there could be talks and even a few calls made over the next week to 10 days, what Whisenhunt said about the Titans keeping Mettenberger has generally been the rule. The same reasons teams would be interested in a young quarterback are the same reasons his current team would have an awfully high asking price.

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Chris Johnson returns to practice

Chris Johnson AP

When Chris Johnson hurt his hamstring last week, word from the Cardinals was that he was expected to miss a week or two before returning to the field.

Johnson has made it back on the early end of that timeframe. According to multiple reports from Cardinals practice on Friday, Johnson is in pads and taking part in practice with the team.

Sunday’s matchup against the Raiders might be too quick a turnaround for Johnson to get in his first game action with the team, but he could see a few carries next week if his hamstring holds up well after practicing.

Whether Johnson plays in the preseason or not, he should still compete for snaps in the backfield with Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson as Arizona looks for a more effective running game than they featured last year. The younger Johnson ran 13 times for 66 yards last week while Ellington has had five carries as the starter in both preseason outings.

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Saints spending one-fifth of their cap space on players not on the team

Jimmy Graham AP

Every NFL team has some dead money on its salary cap, money that is allocated to a certain player who’s no longer on the team. But no team is allocating cap space like the Saints.

In New Orleans, 20 percent of the cap is dead money, according to Spotrac. Among the players who count huge amounts against the Saints’ salary cap even though they’re no longer on the team are tight end Jimmy Graham ($9 million), guard Ben Grubbs ($6 million), linebacker Junior Galette ($5.45 million) and linebacker Curtis Lofton $5 million).

The Saints’ cap situation has been problematic for a while now, and the problem isn’t going away. Based on the contracts they already have, the Saints are projected to be $7.3 million over the cap next year.

The team with the lowest dead cap number is the Bengals, who have less than $1 million allocated to players no longer on the team. Bengals owner Mike Brown has been criticized at times for being miserly, but if you’re going to criticize the Bengals for that, you also have to credit them for being smart enough to make the playoffs four years in a row while not mortgaging the future with high-priced contracts for players who don’t last.

The player with the league’s highest dead-cap number is Ndamukong Suh, who counts $9.737 million against the Lions’ salary cap this year even though he signed with the Dolphins in March. After Suh, the highest dead cap number in the NFL is $9.5 million, the amount of the Ravens cap that is allocated to Ray Rice.

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Reggie Wayne on playbook: They’re throwing a lot at me right now

Reggie Wayne AP

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne is wrapping up his first week as a member of the Patriots and it’s been full of new things.

Wayne is wearing a new number on a new team after spending 14 years with No. 87 on the back of a Colts jersey and he’s also trying to lear a new offensive playbook with limited time to cram in all the new information before the start of the regular season. The scheme may be new but the experience brings back some old memories.

“Like a rookie,” Wayne said, via the Boston Herald. “They’re throwing a lot at me right now. I’m not getting very much sleep. I feel like a rookie all over again.”

Other veteran wideouts have struggled to pick up the Patriots offense quickly enough to make an impact for the team, so it’s not surprising to hear that Wayne’s working hard to pick everything up. With Brandon LaFell on the PUP list and Julian Edelman out of action for almost all of August, the Patriots may need that work to pay off early in the season.

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Eric Winston glad Jonathan Kraft “coming around” on player discipline

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptkymmq0ymvimzfmmdk5njyzmdljymzkzjk5mtfkyza0 AP

Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said in a recent radio interview that he thinks the league needs to take a look at possible changes to the way player discipline is meted out by the league office.

“There probably needs to be a rethinking so that the league office and the Commissioner aren’t put in a spotlight in a way that detracts from the league’s image and the game, even if the league office is doing the right thing, or the wrong thing, or whatever you think,” Kraft said. “It probably needs to be rethought for the modern era that we’re in and the different things that are coming up that I don’t think people anticipated and how the public wants to see them treated.”

Outside of a retweet of a story about Kraft’s comments from 49ers CEO Jed York, there hasn’t been much comment from ownership around the league about Kraft’s suggestion but NFLPA president Eric Winston liked what Kraft had to say. Winston said he’s “glad they’re coming around” and “starting to see what we’ve been seeing and what we’ve been saying” about the way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wields his power over player discipline.

“I don’t want to keep pointing fingers at the league office, but that’s really what it is in the sense of running these rogue investigations that are clearly against the CBA,” Winston said, via USA Today. “An ex-commissioner has said so. Federal judges have said so. Arbitrators have said so. A lot of people can say, ‘Oh, well that’s just a partisan union hack.’ But don’t take my word for it. Take their word for it. Take federal judge David Doty recently questioning whether they know what the CBA says, because it’s clear to everybody but them that they’re not following it.”

Winston says he thinks every owner would see that the current system is “detrimental” to the game, something that doesn’t seem to be the case based on sentiments they’ve shared publicly.

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Crime rate among NFL players is relatively low, with some caveats

rayrice AP

The widespread perception that the NFL has a crime problem is contradicted by a detailed study of player arrests, which found that NFL players are arrested less often than men in their 20s and 30s as a whole.

Alex Piquero, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, says people who think NFL players are inordinately finding themselves in legal trouble are wrong.

“The data show that it’s not true. Over a 14-year period, for most types of crime, the general population has a greater rate of arrests than players in the NFL,” Piquero said.

Piquero’s research compared arrests of NFL players to crime data from the FBI for arrests among all men in the United States aged 20 to 39, stretching from 2000 to 2013. In every year, the crime rate was higher for American men in their 20s and 30s than for NFL players.

“The data show that the perception that NFL players are overly criminal compared to the U.S. population is false,” Piquero said. “In fact, when you look at the forest and not the trees, the trends over the 14-year period show that the general population has higher arrest rates than NFL players do.”

That’s not to say this research makes the NFL look great. For starters, NFL players are far wealthier than average men aged 20-39, which means they have far greater resources to keep themselves out of trouble — and far less incentive to commit crimes like theft. Other research has indicated that NFL players’ crime rates may be higher than crime rates of other wealthy Americans.

The researchers also weren’t able to determine whether rates of domestic violence — the crime that has brought the most negative attention to the NFL in the last year — are higher, lower or the same within the NFL as the general population.

And this research relies on media reports to determine how many players are arrested. But that may understate the actual number of arrests in the NFL because it’s possible that some players’ arrests are never reported.

Add it all up, and it’s not so clear that NFL players break the law any less often than American men as a whole. It may be more a matter of NFL players doing a better job of making their problems go away before an arrest hits the news. Especially if they’re taking Cris Carter’s advice.

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Chargers don’t see a problem with Melvin Gordon’s pass protection

Dallas Cowboys v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

Running back Melvin Gordon came out of Wisconsin without much experience as a pass catcher or pass blocker, although that didn’t stop the Chargers from making him their first-round pick.

They also didn’t let that limited experience stop them from installing him at the top of their backfield depth chart either. Pass protection is going to be important if Gordon is going to be on the field often enough to play that role and if the Chargers are going to strike the right balance on offense this season.

All of that makes it a good sign that running backs coach Ollie Wilson says that he hasn’t seen anything from Gordon to suggest that he lacks the pass protection skills he needs to play in the NFL.

“I know this: When he matches up, he’ll put his head in and strike somebody,” Wilson said, via “He’s a big-bodied guy, and he’s long, so he keeps people off of him. I don’t see what people say, that he won’t pass protect. I’ve had no problem with it.”

Wilson’s one concern with Gordon in that area is recognizing and adjusting to blitzes during the course of games. There’s only so much work that can be done on that front without actually playing in games so it seems Gordon will be proving himself under fire this season.

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Duane Brown to miss Sunday’s game with hand injury

Duane Brown AP

The Texans will be without their starting left tackle for their third preseason game of the year.

Coach Bill O’Brien said Friday that Duane Brown has a hand injury that will keep him out of Sunday’s matchup with the Saints. O’Brien said, via Tania Ganguli of, that Brown will miss some time with the injury, although he doesn’t think it is particularly serious.

O’Brien also said that Brown is not expected to miss any regular season action at this point, although he pointed out that could change depending on how Brown’s injury responds. Ganguli reported that Brown had a “cast-like thing” on his right hand.

If he were to be out of the lineup for Houston, it would be a blow to a team already missing running back Arian Foster as Brian Hoyer settles in as their starting quarterback.

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PFT Live: Jets talk with Manish Mehta, Bills talk with Tyler Dunne

Doug Whaley, Rex Ryan AP

Friday’s PFT Live will bring you the latest on a couple of AFC East teams.

Mike Florio will talk to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News about the Jets ahead of Saturday’s game against their co-tenants at MetLife Stadium. They’ll discuss Ryan Fitzpatrick’s prospects at quarterback, Geno Smith’s recovery from a broken jaw and more.

Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News will also be on hand to talk about Rex Ryan’s new team. Quarterbacks will be a big topic in that conversation as well, namely Ryan’s decision to start EJ Manuel in the Bills’ third preseason game.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour by clicking right here.

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